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Why is Gen Z averse to paternalistic leadership?

Paternalistic Leadership which used to work well once upon a time (might still work for formal Organisations) is no longer the preferred model of Leadership

Billy Paul Ebenezer        Last Updated: January 2, 2020  | 15:41 IST
Why is Gen Z averse to paternalistic leadership?
Paternalistic Leadership not just kills creativity, it also effectively dries up the limited pool of future Leaders we have currently

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a Leader", quipped John Quincy Adams. In other words, the ultimate measure of a true Leader is not in terms of how many followers he/she has, but in terms of how many Leaders he/she has created.

This is in essence what former US President John Adams had in mind while describing a good Leader as one who would ultimately make their followers "become more" like them. Many Business Leaders of today are 'inspirational', 'courageous', and even 'benevolent', while only a few go on to don the 'visionary', 'inclusive' and 'change agent' hat too. In short, much of today's Leadership is more "paternalistic" than "transformational" and Gen Z, in particular, abhors it.

Paternalistic Leadership, according to Business dictionary, is a fatherly managerial style where Organisational power is used to control and protect subordinate staff that are expected to be loyal and obedient. The hardcore version of paternalistic Leadership is where the Leader exerts excessive control over his/her staff and is in turn paid back unconditional allegiance.

Also Read: Gen-Y, Not Gen-Z, Holds The Key

This approach - though benevolent - leads to over-dependence of the Leader and consequently stifles creativity. The subtler softcore version of paternalistic Leadership is where the Leader behaves like a "Conservative Dad". This dad thinks he knows everything way better than the child and that the child should circumnavigate a certain path in order to reach a particular destination. This approach - though futuristic - leads to underutilisation or burnout of the staff.

In most Leadership schools, the stress is on the importance of having a vision, integrity and cognitive and relationship building ability. Rarely do they emphasise on the importance of being a Servant (transformational) Leader - to serve people with their interests in mind and eventually step aside or walk alongside their followers, so that they too can follow in their footsteps.

A strong sense of insecurity runs deep within many Leaders of this generation that they simply refuse to delegate or even accept the ideas of junior staff. While there is so much traction on initiatives around "Diversity & Inclusion", there is great resistance to include employees who are young and have a difference in opinion and working styles, in the decision making process.

The current prevailing mood of resentment and anger found among youngsters and women is undeniable and justified. Popular movements such as "Me too" and latest memes such as "Ok Boomer" has only exposed the dark underside of paternalistic Leadership. A recent article in Times magazine portrayed Gen Z as frustrated, angry and scared.

Also Read:Millennials driving co-working boom in India

It seems Gen Z apparently holds the Gen X responsible for milking the system dry and thereby leaving them high and dry to figure things out all by themselves - if they fail to toe the line of their seniors. Even the recent police shootout of the four gang-rape suspects (while still in custody and yet to face trial) in Hyderabad, India only affirmed the patriarchy's culture of toxic masculinity - an irony indeed as that was exactly what the whole nation was protesting against.

On the other hand, one can pretend the current crop of Leadership is faring well on the pretext of initiatives such as "succession planning." Many companies, in fact, do have a robust "succession planning" program.

However, these programs are often perceived as a "one-off" event and as a tool which concentrates on a select few. And, even if one has to laud these initiatives, the results of these programmes seem to be less than satisfactory, according to one Leadership research. Only a few companies look at succession planning beyond the mechanical process of transitioning their bench list.

The young workforce of today wants their Leader to behave much like a coach rather than act like their doting (helicopter) parent. The Gen Z's of today isn't much excited with their Leader's five-year plan for them; they are more concerned about their immediate requirements being taken care of.

Also Read: Convenience and cheaper options, why millennials are buying insurance online

The junior colleagues of today do not crave for special treatments like a family member but are wary of loyalty requests based on seniority, rewards and not on merit. The millennials of today are motivated more by autonomy and career development opportunities and less by promotions and salary increments.

In conclusion, paternalistic Leadership which used to work well once upon a time (might still work for formal Organisations) is no longer the preferred model of Leadership. It is a proven fact that paternalistic Leadership not just kills creativity, it also effectively dries up the limited pool of future Leaders we have currently.

And, while it is difficult to overlook the pull of conventional wisdom while dealing with one's subordinates, a visionary leader is one who would truly understand the demands of the modern workplace and its young workforce.

(The author works as a Learning & Development consultant with Wipro Ltd.)

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