How to Coach and Lead Your College-Bound Gen Z Child
After the tragic shooting in Parkland Florida, five amazing teens (Jaclyn Corin, Alex Wind, Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, and David Hogg) helped organize a national movement/student revolt in which millions of Americans joined them in holding protests focused on school shootings and gun violence. The five graced the cover of Time Magazine and were featured in an article called “The Young and Relentless.”
They are part of Gen Z (today we will define them as folks born between 2000 and 2014). This emerging generation is influencing, challenging, reshaping, and redefining well, almost everything.
What is different about Gen Z than their Millennial brothers and sisters is that they are NOT waiting for someone to hand them an instruction book on life. And they don’t seek the wisdom of the grayhairs to validate or invalidate their dreams. For Gen Z the light is always green, and they are ready to hit the gas and blaze through the intersections of life, mostly expecting to arrive in a new promised land without incident.
And this summer, many of them will arrive on a college campus revved up to experience progress, change, and fulfillment.
So how do you, as a Baby Boom or Gen X parent, or college administrator, effectively coach and lead these ambitious, well educated, and technology-grounded college-bound sons and daughters?
Understand Their World—No, Stop and Really Understand It
I could list 1,000 traits about this generation, but rather than give you overkill with interesting but not totally relevant data, I’d rather provide you with five important standard positions in the world of a college-bound Gen Z and ask you to see how these positions influence their interaction with parents, process, and soon, college.
- They are fiercely entrepreneurial, fueled by greater access to social media platforms, internet commerce participation, and “big data.”
- They communicate not just in the written word, but also fully embrace the language of video, movies, emojis, and hashtags.
- They are quick to accept new concepts and ideas and often charge full-steam into production mode.
- They can experience higher rates of loneliness and depression sparked, in part, by the current state of their online presence.
- Diversity is expected—yes, race and national origin, but also diversity of thinking, experiences, and anticipated outcomes.
Set Time Aside and Prepare for Your Coaching Moments
Time and efficiency is everything to this generation. They are comfortable working with three to five devices in front of them and juggling multiple conversations at the same time. Hence, for you to have an effective, engaging coaching moment, first recognize that your window of influence will be short. Don’t fight that—prepare for it.
Pay attention to important nuances, like what time of day are you engaging them, what else is competing for their attention, how much time they have to engage you (how much time you have), and, if you are not meeting in person, what your means of communication will be (remember, Gen Z likes movies and will probably want to video chat).
Ultimately, in preparing for the coaching moment be clear in your own mind how much the timing and the setting will play into how you are going to help them think, process, decide, and then act.
After you have comfortably established the environment for the conversation, make sure you prioritize what you want to talk about. Keep a little list in front of you, and give yourself some grace because time and limited attention span might mean you won’t get to everything on the list.
Gen Z will want time in any coaching moment to explore new ideas and concepts and during the exchange they will take an idea and continue to expand on it, change it, and morph it into their own. They will also use the internet as a massive data source and an “advice check” and even crowdsource your ideas. They are not the “talk in circles” generation; they are practical and to-the-point, so do your best to honor their norms.
Coach Gen Z Along Generational Themes
Gen Z is different than previous generations when it comes to seeking wisdom and advice. They are more focused on getting coaching advice from a parent or adult than they are receiving a specific road map for success. They see life less as a series of cookie-cutter activities and more as a wide-open space of possibility. So, to influence them appropriately you must be more of a coach (one who helps them see alternatives) than a GPS telling them they must turn right or left.
One approach to connect with Gen Z is to coach them around three of their generational themes: entrepreneurship, courage and empowerment, and fulfillment. We explore each of the themes below:
If you went to college in the ’80s or early ’90s, you were given the idea that the American dream was to find a company where you could build a career and move from employee to leader/executive. True nirvana was found in the company structure; there were lots of conversations around the notion of working hard and being rewarded with reaching the promised land of senior leadership.
Gen Z is fiercely entrepreneurial and doesn’t run to a command-and-control environment. They will need you to coach them around the ideas of what it means to be entrepreneurial in college/out of college, and how they can be an effective intrapreneur in a company or organization. Your coaching moments will be less around what tactical things they need to do and more about the strategic choices they need to consider and some things that could happen because of their choices.
Courage and Empowerment:
Part of effectively coaching your Gen Z college-bound child is to recognize that they will respond best to leaders who demonstrate courage and empower others to succeed. They aren’t just looking for those leadership skills to be present in their college professor or future employer; they are looking for them in you too. As part of your coaching experience, share with them moments when you had courage, or wish you had. Don’t be shy about telling them what you would do differently today than you did yesterday. Courage is a currency for Gen Z—spend it and then challenge them to embrace their innate spirit of courage too.
Truth is, many Gen Zers need you to coach them into a deeper courage zone when it comes to their personal identity. Research tells us that Gen Z wrestles with the desire to have an outstanding, one-of-a-kind online personality with the reality that true uniqueness is best defined from the inside out, not the outside in.
Gen Z also loves to feel empowered. So coach them to be empowered; demonstrate how you empower yourself and other around you. Help them to see how empowerment is a tool that’s already within them and it’s their responsibility to feel a sense of empowerment from their major, their professors, and the environment they have created on their college campus. Also help them to see that with empowerment come new or added responsibilities.
The definition of how someone is fulfilled in their college experience and work-life is being redefined by late Millennials and Gen Zers who are looking for college and the workplace to serve as an ever-changing incubator of personal skills and interests. The traditional definition of achieving “Work-Life” balance as making both time for work and life is slowly dying out. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, now calls that notion work-life harmony; others refer to it as work-life integration.
No matter what you decide to call it, Gen Z is firmly in the camp that work and life happen simultaneously, and happen in the context of universal diversity, where all ideas should be considered and things should be tried and tested. They believe fulfillment in college, and at work, involves being connected to real social responsibility. For Gen Z, this is demonstrated when an entity makes available, and then coordinates, student/employee participation in improving the environment, volunteering, and philanthropy. For Gen Z, social responsibility is part of their DNA. So coach them through experiences, help them better identify opportunities to participate in and lead socially responsible activities; help them think about the “tradeoffs” that come with social responsibility versus time needed to get through school, and some other ways they can have a fulfilling college experience.
Remember that Gen Zers live in a world very different than yours and mine. Be their coach and watch them flourish.
Jeffrey Vargas is a dad and intergenerational expert. He is President and CEO of Generationology, a human capital consulting firm that helps organizations manage and lead across generations. You can learn more about his company by visiting www.generationology.org or send him an email at Jeff@generationology.org.