Can Managers Teach “Old-Fashioned Followership” to Today’s Young Talent?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How do you teach today’s young people to value authority, instead of disregarding it? 

Tap Into Their Customer Thinking 

They look at their relationship with any established institution, no matter how small or how large, and they think, “What do you have for me? And what currency do I need to use to get what I want/need from you?” Take that mindset and turn it inside out: “We are the customer in this relationship! We are paying you!!” 

Tap Into Their Gratitude 

They are likely pleased to have a source of income and maybe some benefits. They may be grateful to be accepted, validated, and wanted. They also are probably happy to have access to a hub of resources from which to acquire experience, training, and networking. They like going somewhere with computers, phones, and bathrooms—maybe a kitchen or a gym, maybe some office supplies. Tap into their gratitude that future doors might be opened by this current job. 

Tap Into the Freshness of New Relationships 


Remember that most young people are simply not accustomed to sustained interactions with a group of “peers” who are:

  • not all roughly their own age  
  • not relationships of their own choosing 
  • not refereed constantly 
  • not also engaging with them in a parallel conversation through social media.

Teach them that these relationships are real world, involve a high degree of interdependency in pursuit of concrete goals every step of the way, and the stakes are high. Adults are in the workplace to earn their livelihoods. So there are lots of opportunities to disappoint—or be disappointed.

Tap Into Their Relationships With Older Generations 

Today’s young people have been closer to their parents, teachers, and counselors than any generation in history. Work with them to engage the quid-pro-quo of work in your favor: Yes, you will help them meet their basic needs and wants at work. You will greet them warmly, make them feel comfortable, set them up for success, provide them with the resources they need, help them avoid pitfalls, and give them lots of encouragement. The other side of the equation is that they are expected to work very hard, very fast, and display a great attitude, every step of the way. 

Tap Into Followership 

Help orient new young employees by helping them figure out “their proper place” in the context – how to adapt in order to “fit in” with others who clearly have longstanding relationships and a well-established course of dealing.

Teach them what counts as matters of followership and be prepared to explain that, in the workplace, these are not just personal matters of individual style or preference. At work, these elements of followership are all about the employer’s business:

  • Respect for context: Reading and adapting to the existing structure, rules, customs and leadership in an unfamiliar situation.
  • Citizenship: Accepting, embracing, and observing, not just the rights and rewards, but the duties of membership/belonging/participation in a defined group with its own structure, rules, customs, and leadership.
  • Service: Approaching relationships in terms of what you have to offer – respect, commitment, hard work, creativity, sacrifice – rather than what you need or want.
  • Teamwork: Playing whatever role is needed to support the larger mission; coordinating, cooperating and collaborating with others in pursuit of a shared goal; supporting and celebrating the success of others.
About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is internationally recognized as the leading expert on young people in the workplace and one of the leading experts on leadership and management. Bruce is a best-selling author, an adviser to business leaders all over the world, and a sought-after keynote speaker and management trainer.

Since 1995, Bruce has worked with tens of thousands of leaders and managers in hundreds of organizations ranging from Aetna to Wal-Mart; from the Army to the YMCA.  In recent years, Bruce was named by Management Today as one of the few contemporary figures to stand out as a “management guru” and he was named to the 2009 Thinkers 50 rising star list. On August 13, 2009, Bruce was honored to accept Toastmasters International’s most prestigious honor, the Golden Gavel. This honor is annually presented to a single person who represents excellence in the fields of communication and leadership. Past winners have included Stephen Covey, Zig Ziglar, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Ken Blanchard, Tom Peters, Art Linkletter, Dr. Joyce Brothers, and Walter Cronkite.

Bruce’s most recent book, The 27 Challenges Managers Face: Step-by-step Solutions to (Nearly) All of Your Management Challenges (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2014) was published in September, 2014.  He is also the author of the best-seller It’s Okay to Be the Boss (HarperCollins, 2007) and the classic Managing Generation X (W.W. Norton, 2000; first published in 1995). Bruce’s other books include Winning the Talent Wars (W.W. Norton, 2001), which received widespread acclaim from Fortune 500 CEOs and business journalists; the best-seller Fast Feedback (HRD Press, 1998); Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: Managing Generation Y (Jossey-Bass, 2009); Managing the Generation Mix (HRD Press, 2006) and It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss (Jossey-Bass, 2010).   Many of Bruce’s works have been published around the world in foreign editions.

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