I’ve had the pleasure of helping some scary-smart, motivated 20-somethings figure out what they really want to be doing as of late. They are thrillingly ripe with potential and the desire to do great work, and also confused and anxious about what’s next. Speaking of scary (other than the number of years between us), I’ve noticed a trend in their experience of work and how they view their futures at the companies where they’re gainfully employed: they want nothing to do with the work lives their bosses are living.
They just don’t like what they’re seeing. They aren’t inspired by the jobs and lifestyles of the people they’re supposed to be inspired by. It doesn’t take a brainiac to figure out that it’s hard to get motivated by a career path if it leads to what you perceive to be the edge of a cliff… and bright young talent who aren’t interested in professional cliff-diving tend to pack up their cubicles and leave.
What are these ambitious folks getting turned off by?

  • “I don’t want to work my way up to my boss’s job because he doesn’t seem to have a life.”
  • “The executives in my company are all unhappy. Why would I want to become one of them?”
  • “My boss works all the time and my boss’s boss works even more than that. For what?”
  • “I’m not inspired by the Director jobs here. They work hard and I know they complain a lot.”
  • “My boss is always so tired. She’s traveling all the time and tells me how exhausted she is.”

Let’s be real. Sometimes it’s not that your high-caliber young talent is getting turned off by something, it’s that they’re not being turned on by something. Igniting the flame in the furnace of a hungry young person who wants to shine at work is the job of the leader.
So, if you’re a leader, you might want to take a look in the mirror and ask yourself a few questions:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, to what extent do you think your young talent wants to emulate your work life (and therefore your life in general)? If your number is a 6 or lower, what might need to change?
  • Do you want to be living the work life you’re living right now? If the answer is no, what are you prepared to do about it?
  • What signals are you giving off that show you’re specifically happy at work?
  • What signals are you giving off that show you’re specifically unhappy at work?
  • What’s the difference for you between being “real” vs. “brutally honest” with your team (like admitting you’re tired at the completion of a long and important project, vs. making it known how late you stayed last night and how early you were in this morning and that finance didn’t get you what you needed in time and that you need to stay late tonight too because…)
  • Who do you need to be a role model for, to inspire to work hard and grow into a job that’s actually rewarding and enjoyable?

Leadership comes with a lot of responsibility– far greater than making sure your killer culture eats your killer strategy for breakfast while managing a killer P&L.

Leadership means reflecting on what kind of example you’re setting for the next generation of would-be leaders to replace you.
Are you acting in a way that you would have wanted to follow back when you started your career?

Jodi Wellman

Jodi is a co-founder of Happy Work Spectacular Life, loves red Skittles (maybe too much) and finally got a Happy Spectacular logo tattoo.