Transforming your Gen Z employees through coaching and leadership

Simon Tyler
Wondrous Associate Coach 

Simon Tyler has been a Wondrous associate coach since 2011. When he’s not sharing his wisdom with our clients, he’s a globe-trotting public speaker and the author of five books: the most recent is the Business Book Awards finalist “The Attitude Book”. We sat down with him recently to talk about how coaching and leadership are evolving, the expectations of the Gen Z cohort of employees and how we can inspire and supercharge young workers to be their best selves in the workplace.

You’ve been a coach for more than two decades now. What’s the most transformative change you’ve seen in that time?

We have different expectations of work now, so our relationship with work is evolving. Younger people are joining the workforce with a more informed, more holistic view of what it means to be part of an organisation. But if I have to boil it down to one thing, it’s the shift in how we manage people. The relationship between managers (at whatever level) and the people who report to them is such a crucial one in any organisation. But we think about it so differently now. When I started out in coaching, we only really talked about management, with all the connotations that come with it: a top-down approach; thinking of people as assets to be deployed in specific ways; dealing with people in a prescriptive, command-and-control fashion. Now we’re much more likely to talk about leadership rather than management, which is easy to dismiss as just a vocab change. But being a leader, particularly in the context of all the changes we’ve been through in the past few years, is about far more than just telling people what you want them to do. For me a great leader inspires their people to be better versions of themselves. It’s a collaborative and individual approach. Each person needs different support and stimuli to help them grow. Great leaders understand and act on that.

Daniel Goleman identified six styles of leadership in his 2002 book “Primal Leadership”. The coaching leader looks at building long-term strength and resilience by developing people. But we have to be careful here. Some could look at that sentence and say “Yes, I develop my people through training, I support them to deliver on specific tasks by boosting their skills”. But that’s development which serves the manager first, not the individual. You’re still deploying people and resources to get the best outcome for you. For me, that’s not coaching. Coaching looks at the individual and considers the environment we need to create in order to get that person to thrive. And here’s the crucial part: we’re now seeing a cohort of Gen Z workers who will expect that, who are far more aware of their working life within the context of their wider life, and who will vote with their feet if you can’t provide it.

So how do we inspire people to be that kind of leader?

Leaders need to be the best version of themselves too. I’ve written and talked about the 343 model, which describes the ten things that occupy most of our time. Three of those are instinctive to us as people: we enjoy them, they come naturally to us. The middle four are things we may feel less enthusiastic about, but which we often have to deal with in our daily / working life. The bottom three things are the tasks or activities which drain us, which we avoid where we can and loathe when we’re forced to do them. So I try to coach people to spend as much time as possible in their top three, focussing on what they do really well and what brings them joy and fulfilment. And you often find that there are ways to share, delegate or outsource your bottom three, to find ways to compensate for your instinct to avoid them. The more time you spend on your top three, the happier and more fulfilled you’ll be.

The logical step on from that is that we can start to dispense with the masks we wear (particularly at work) to shield ourselves from the things we don’t want to engage with. We all wear masks to a greater or lesser extent: a persona we put on to deal with certain people, tasks or topics. But whether we realise it or not, wearing a mask is exhausting. It drains us of energy, it subtracts from our reservoir of resilience.

So how does all this help leaders to lead? What effects can we expect for our people?

If we feel as though work is a safe space for us to be ourselves, that’s when we can expect to see the very best from our people. That’s the essential prerequisite for creating a coaching culture: creating spaces for people to be open with each other about the challenges they face and the support they need to achieve and deliver. And this is where we come full circle to our Gen Z cohort, because this is behaviour that my generation has come to over years of evolution, but which younger people expect as a matter of course. Their relationship to technology, to their understanding of personal wellbeing, is instinctive. We’ve had to learn this: they see it as an essential part of their broader lives. Workplace engagement is at an all-time low. If we’re going to inspire and engage our next wave of talent, we need to take these things on board, or they’ll find companies and roles that do.

To learn more about coaching and leadership in the Gen Z era, get in touch with our Wondrous team at 

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