6 Shifts Necessary in Leading and Mentoring the iGeneration

Have you been keeping up with demographics? Almost half the world’s population is 25 and under. That’s about three billion young people. If we’re really serious about reaching the world, we must get serious about understanding and connecting with these kids. Just three years ago in America, Generation Y reached a milestone. (They are the youth born between 1984 and 2002). They’re now the largest generation in American history, passing up the Baby boomers in size, at 80 million people.

I call the youngest members, born since 1990: “Generation iY.” I use this term because they’ve grown up on-line, impacted by the “i” world—iTunes, iPhones, iPods, iMacs, iPads…and for many of them, life is pretty much about “I.” We’ve raised a more self-absorbed batch of kids than their earlier counterparts.

Much more than their predecessors in Generation X, young people from Generation iY seem to be acting as a generational group. In some ways, the university students I talk to in the U.S. feel they belong to each other. They’re truly connected, both via technology as well as a community across the globe. The recruiting chief at L’Oreal, Francois De Wazieres, agrees that these kids are surprisingly similar. “One thing I find to be very universal is that they have international experiences, are eager to take on the world and value their relationships…whether they are from Malaysia, India, France, Argentina, or the U.S, they wear similar clothing, have the same iPods, and mix and connect easily. Two hours after meeting, they’re probably best friends on Facebook.” This, of course, doesn’t sound bad. What’s wrong with a tight-knit demographic like this?

Some may view this generation’s size and connection as a warm, fluffy phenomenon that has no downside. I hope they are right. Unfortunately, with my ear to the ground, I am picking up some signals that could be trouble if we fail to respond well. Let me tell this story beginning with Generation iY in America.

A Rising Generation and a Retiring Generation

Our situation has even greater ramifications than the ones above. Because we have two large generations sandwiching a smaller one in between, we have a new challenge on our hands here at home. The following two lines summarize the challenge in front of us:

1. Young people (Generation Y) will be entering the marketplace in greater numbers and more quickly than we can prepare them.

2. Older people, (the Baby Boomer generation) will be retiring in greater numbers and more quickly than we can replace them.

This is one of the most crucial tests we’ll face in our lifetime. It will impact everyone and yet few seem aware of the dilemma it presents for our generation. Unless we raise the standard for kids today and help them to think and act like authentic leaders, they will not be ready for the responsibility thrust on them as they enter adulthood. Generation Y is already the fastest growing segment of the workforce, and with immigration, some social scientists say it could reach 100 million strong. While the generation of younger children is much smaller (in America, some call them “Homelanders,” as they’re born after the launch of the Department of Homeland Security), there is a swelling of teens and twenty-somethings. Here’s why our problem is amplified in America. The Baby Boomers (78 million) are aging. The first wave has already begun retiring. In fact, during the next decade, about 45% of the workforce will vanish. And they’ll continue retiring for the next eighteen years. There is a much smaller population behind them—Generation X (46 million). Just do the math and you can see there are not enough leaders within Generation X to fill the spots vacated by the Baby Boomers. Someone must fill those roles. Ready or not, our kids today will be our leaders.

So, how should we lead these young people? May I talk straight? We must master the art of mentoring them and leading them. Let me suggest six shifts we must make:

1. Don’t think CONTROL, think CONNECT.

Often our ambition as a parent or leader is to seize control. Studies show that parents who over-program their child’s schedule often breed kids who rebel as teens. Instead, wise leaders work to connect with them. Why? Because once we connect, we build a bridge of relationship that can bear the weight of truth. We earn our right to influence them.

2. Don’t think INFORM, think INTERPRET.

This is the first generation of kids that don’t need adults to get information. It’s coming at them 24/7. What they need from us is interpretation. Their knowledge has no context. We must help them make sense of all they know as they build a wise and healthy worldview.

3. Don’t think ENTERTAIN, think EQUIP.

I’ve seen parents who are consumed with entertaining their child. I know teachers who approach their classrooms the same way. A better perspective may be: how can I equip my young person for the future? If I give them relevant tools to succeed, they’ll stay engaged. Happiness is a by-product. True satisfaction comes from growth.

4. Don’t think “DO IT FOR THEM” think “HELP THEM DO IT.”

Adults have been committed to giving kids a strong self-esteem for thirty years now. According to the American Psychological Association, healthy and robust self-esteem actually comes from achievement not merely affirmation. We lead for the long-term not the short term. Sure it’s quicker to do it yourself—but it’s better to transfer a skill.

5. Don’t think IMPOSE, think EXPOSE.

When adults become scared a kid is falling behind, we tend to impose a rule or a behavior on them. While mandatory conduct is part of life, if kids feel forced to do it; they usually don’t take ownership of it; it’s your idea not theirs. Why not think “expose” instead of impose. Show them something. Give them an opportunity they can’t pass up.

6. Don’t think PROTECT, think PREPARE.

Adults paranoid about the safety of our kids. Sadly, in our obsession over safety, we’ve failed to prepare them for adulthood. Instead of fearing for them, it’s better to recall your entrance into adulthood and discuss what you learned that helped you succeed. The greatest gift a parent can give their child is the ability to get along without them.

7. Don’t think LECTURE, think LAB.

When young people do wrong, we’re predisposed to lecture them. While it’s a quick way to transmit an idea, it’s not the best way to transform a life. We must create experiences from which we can process truths—like science class—a lab with a lecture. They’re not looking for a sage on the stage with a lecture but a guide on the side with an experience.

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Tim Elmore

Tim Elmore

Tim Elmore is the founder and president of Growing Leaders. His latest book Habitudes for the Journey is designed to master the art of navigating life’s critical transitions.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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