The demise of the iron fist: Why commanding leadership can’t crack Gen Z and Y

The reign of the commanding leader, once celebrated for swift decisions and tight control, is under siege by a new wave of workers.

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The commanding leadership style, once lauded for its decisiveness and efficiency, is facing an uphill battle with younger generations. Gen Z and Gen Y employees, raised on collaboration and autonomy, find the top-down, directive approach disengaging and demotivating. This clash in preferences is creating a disconnect that hinders engagement, productivity, and ultimately, organisational success.

Imagine a scenario: Manager A employs a classic commanding style, unilaterally announcing a major project shift without consulting the team. This decision triggers a cascade of negative consequences. Team members feel disengaged, their individual contributions ignored.

Ramesh Shankar S, senior HR leader and former CHRO, Siemens, points out, “People don’t like it because it feels too strict and distant. To get respect and keep employees interested, leaders need to be more friendly and approachable.” Morale plummets, replaced by a sense of undervaluation.

“Leaders should encourage open-ended questions, present options, and empower team members to participate”

Ramesh Shankar S, HR leader and former CHRO, Siemens

Second, innovation suffers. Stifled by the manager’s command-and-control approach, employees hesitate to share ideas, fearing they won’t be valued. This stifles creativity, hindering the organisation’s ability to adapt and thrive.

Gen Z and Gen Y, products of the digital age, crave autonomy and self-reliance. They’re accustomed to readily available information, empowering them to make informed decisions and solve problems independently. Commanding leaders, wedded to a directive approach, struggle to connect with these employees who value the freedom to contribute and express themselves.

Purpose and values are also crucial for these generations when choosing a workplace. Younger generations seek more than just a paycheck; they seek a sense of purpose and alignment with their workplace values. Commanding leaders solely focused on task completion, neglecting the broader mission, fail to resonate with Gen Z and Gen Y.

Anil Mohanty, an HR leader, agrees, “They value inclusivity and dislike being pressured. They are technologically advanced, well-informed, and seek leaders who treat everyone equally.”

“Diversity and inclusion, beyond just gender, are crucial to them, and leaders need to be respectful and explain their decisions transparently”

Anil Mohanty, HR leader

“Diversity and inclusion, beyond just gender, are crucial to them, and leaders need to be respectful and explain their decisions transparently,” he adds.

Work-life balance ranks high on Gen Z and Gen Y’s priority list. The rigid, structured approach often associated with commanding leadership clashes with their desire for flexible work arrangements.

Furthermore, these generations value collaboration and shared decision-making. Commanding leaders typically make decisions unilaterally, expecting immediate compliance. However, Gen Z and Gen Y, raised in a collaborative environment, value being part of the decision-making process. Unlike the unilateral pronouncements of commanding leaders, they thrive on open communication and participation.

Shankar emphasises this shift. “Leaders should encourage open-ended questions, present options, and empower team members to participate.”

The commanding style is not dead, but it needs to adapt. Leaders must embrace a more collaborative and participative approach. Open-ended questions, multiple options for consideration, and active listening empower team members and foster a sense of autonomy.

“While experienced leaders may find it challenging to relinquish their commanding ways, mentorship towards flexibility is key”

Pradyumna Pandey, head-HR, Hero Motocorp

Pradyumna Pandey, head-HR, Hero Motocorp, believes, “Micromanagement, often associated with commanding leadership, should be avoided. The younger generations seek autonomy and independence, and leaders should be adaptable to different working styles.”

He advises, “While experienced leaders may find it challenging to relinquish their commanding ways, mentorship towards flexibility is key. Leaders must be open to having their assumptions and methods challenged, fostering an environment of trust and open expression.”

In conclusion, commanding leaders who adapt to the unique needs and preferences of Gen Z and Gen Y can remain effective. Embracing a more inclusive, collaborative, and flexible approach will not only improve employee satisfaction and retention but also unlock the full potential of their teams, propelling the organisation forward in a rapidly changing world.

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