Generation Z - New Questions for Future Leaders

The life cycle of an organization and the consequent formation of leaderships are intrinsically connected [...]

The life cycle of an organization and the consequent formation of leaderships are intrinsically linked to generational aspects and life cycles. In Social Sciences, the area called Sociology of Generations is dedicated to the study of generations and life cycles. More than congregating a set of individuals born in a given time interval, a generation is defined by the common experience it retains and contributes to the expression of a certain way of facing life and its problems.

The term generation became popular in identifying cultural manifestations or political or technological developments – generation Y, generation Network - labels attributed by the media, labels that function as a perceptive stimulation to a set of characteristics. This position is fraught with risk and explains studies developed from a perspective that contemplates a defined generation in an isolated form, a kind of unit detached from other generations and its historical time. From this perspective, the concept of generation becomes independent and begins to be adopted as a synonym for an age bracket or a group with specific characteristics. The media considers a period of twenty years when defining a generation: although it is correct from the biological point of view, setting a period implies not being aware of the differences that a generation can have in relation to other (prior and/or subsequent) generations, differences that have a natural origin and are translated in all social domains and to which technological progress, education, economic transformations contribute, in a word, transformations of society as a whole. The differences between generations are totally related to the analysis of social characteristics – from its own social demographic structure to the development conditions of different areas.

But, from the anthropological perspective, generations are classified as having a sense of direction and identify several types of groups and age categories, always from the genealogy point of view, rendering both the position in the family and in the wider social organization explicit. In sociology, the relations between the generations are distinct, which implies recognizing power relations - both within the scope of the family scope and in a scenario of macrosocial solidarities scenery and/or conflict between generations.  The simple presence at a historically social moment, however, is not enough for developing a perspective or vision of the common world that exists between individuals of nearly the same age. Alda Britto da Motta recalls that “according to Mannheim, generational connection between them is necessary, which means a type of participation in collective practice, either actual or virtual, that produces a generational bond based on experience and collective reflection of the same events. The author also draws attention to the fact that in one same generational connection there are distinct generational units corresponding to different perspectives or positions in relation to the same event ¹.

Scholars have shown that the last 1,000 years of western history was structured from the cycles of four generations: the first generation consists of heroes who struggle to correct the mistakes of the previous cycle; the second cycle is characterized by the conformism and takes advantage of the benefits obtained by the first; the third is consists of rebels while the fourth does not care and is usually apathetic. Generation Z, according to this perspective, would consist of the heroes of the current cycle - sharing a perception about a much more social life (and social justice) than preceding generations, for example, intensively engaging in defending the planet.

After the “millennials” (the “I, I, I” generation), a new generation deserves attention - generation Z (born between 1996 and 2010) that put themselves forward as future guardians. There are clear distinctions between them, arising from the contrasting worlds in which they have grown up. Generation Z has grown up during a unique time, on a new wave of social and political unrest and one where poverty is even more visible, where terrorism is more far-reaching and becoming even more cruel, and in a period in which the boundaries of absolutely everything are extended by power of the Internet. In the West, many saw their parents struggle during the 2008 recession and in many places, Brazil included, these conditions will still present enormous challenges to the generation Z once they reach adulthood. Far beyond the climate change crisis, the dysfunctionalities of the planet are on the increase, and it is the future role of generation Z to deal with them. Although all of us are experiencing these changing times, for the young people of generation Z, this is the only world they have ever known. Moreover, the individuals of generation Z are the real digital natives. They strive to discover new things every day, making things happen, facing and overcoming challenges, being more custodians than creative beings, developing connections with the family and communities, cultivating the casual and, above all, communicating in a different way: they are visual, they prefer to watch instead of reading, speaking instead of writing, thinking in 3D or even in 4D, making comments, whether true or not, and always wanting to go faster and further. ²

The new leaderships, busy with the generation Z individuals, will consist of heroes willing to search for commitment between social justice and the challenges of the planet that represent a new outlook on leadership formation.

¹ Alda Britto da Motta; Wivian Weller (org) - Presentation: The present time of the concept of generations in the sociological research, Dossier: the present time of the concept of generations in the sociological research, Society and State, vol.25, nbr,2, Brasilia, May-August 2010

² BLACK., A., ASADORIAN, D., DUNNET, H. - “8 key truths about Generation Z”, in Measuring the Pulse of Opinion, Research World, no. 67, ESOMAR World Research, Holland, December 2017


Cristina Panella, PhD, MSc

Senior associate at BMI Blue Management Institute.

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