In his victory speech, President-elect Obama said that young people had rejected the "myth" of their generation's apathy. He was spot on. For several years so-called experts have mistakenly painted a caricature of Gen Y as coddled, lazy and lacking in independence. From nearly every corporate tower there is currently hand-wringing going on about what can be done to "correct" their aberrant ways in the workplace. Last week, Barrack Obama gave all managers a lesson in how to harness this new generation's unique strengths. According to the Associated Press, two-thirds of Gen Y supported Obama. Why? Because from a communication perspective, Obama and his campaign understood how to engage and motivate what is essentially an emerging new "tribe" in our society -- not based on race, age or gender -- but on possessing a radically different worldview that has been transformed via mass awareness.
Consider that awareness has the potential to broaden one's understanding of the world. Over the last decade, technology has given most of us giraffe-like necks to peek into what was previously cordoned off -- "other worlds" ranging from different cultures in far away countries to behind-the-scenes machinations of our very own employers. For some, this awareness is frightening and for a variety of educational, economic and religious variables too lengthy to discuss in a blog, often interpreted as a challenge to their own existence. It's what drove the "Joe the Plumber" dialog.
Conversely, there is an emerging new population gaining in size and influence all over the country whose worldview continues to be expanded as a result of on-demand mass awareness. For them, awareness is exhilarating, even addictive. And it has altered the fundamental framework of their lives. For Gen Y, growing up in what I term in my research as the Age of Awareness, they have progressed through all of their developmental stages with what is essentially a sense of omnipotence. It has rewired their beliefs, values and behaviors including how they communicate as human beings.
I recently put together a workplace summit at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business bringing together undergraduate college students with corporate managers to explore these new rules for communication. Within Gen Y's transformed worldview, there is a demand for the blending of formal and informal communication systems, across the board transparency, process-centered vs. product-centered work models and the need for experience driven employment where personal fulfillment and success are determined almost entirely by qualitative rather than quantitative measurements. It's clear that the reason so many young people connected and became involved with the Obama campaign was because he reached them based on an understanding about these new rules for communication.
This is a time of transition in so many ways including how we communicate. We will now have a President who isn't afraid of the Age of Awareness and it will go a long way toward bridging the very divisive generational divide currently taking a toll on the world of work.
Hoorah! A leader who gets it!