The difference between a boss and a leader ….. and what this means for Generation Y

(As featured in Rocket magazine, Summer 2014)


Most leaders of men question themselves at some point. This is especially true for today’s Bosses who are trying to be strong leaders of Generation Y, a group who are famously challenging and demanding. Generation Y were born between 1977 and 1994 which makes them aged 20 to 37 today. They are known as tech-savvy and immune to most traditional sales and management techniques. They’ve seen it all. The rapid expansion of the internet, cable TV and latterly social media has led Gen Y to be very flexible (some might say flighty) with respect to fashions and trends. In business, Generation Y have very little loyalty. The concept of a job for life has all but disappeared (on both sides). So, how can you be a strong leader and give Gen Y what they need to be productive, and friction-free, in the workplace?

1. Bosses drive employees but leaders coach. The traditional Boss drives and “tells” employees what to do. A strong leader empowers employees and trusts in them to do the right thing through effective delegation and a positive coaching atmosphere using lots of listening and questioning techniques. Gen Y do not like to be told what to do and want to be treated like adults, whatever their age and experience.
2. Old school Bosses relied on their authority to get things done. Think back to a Victorian factory or the military. We all used to do exactly what we were told. This rarely exists today as social and employment mobility means people have a choice as how to be treated. Strong leaders generate enthusiasm and create goodwill to get things done. Gen Y demand respect.
3. Bosses use people and take the credit whereas leaders develop people and give credit. The old-fashioned way was to direct your team as to what to do and face-off to your superior with respect to the chain of communication. Generation Y expect their leaders to invest in their careers and to give credit where credit is due. Almost all employees today have a channel to their Boss’s Boss, or even their Boss’s Boss. If due credit wasn’t given, Gen Y would demand it.
4. Bosses blame but Leaders solve. The blame culture is on the way out as Gen Y require a culture of cooperation and problem solving. The idea of ostracizing a problem person on a team wouldn’t fly today. The workplace is expected to be a more emotionally mature place even if this doesn’t always happen.

The gap between a Boss and a Leader had widened over recent years as the demands of Generation Y has affected the norms at work. To keep your talent happy, ensure both you and your managers are switched on to the communications styles and techniques which are expected. Offer freedom as Gen Y are self-reliant and won’t look to a leader for direction. Their goal is to complete tasks in the most efficient way possible, while still doing them well. They don’t work well under a management style that boomers often preferred, with the boss giving orders. Give them the freedom to make their own decisions.


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