Workforce & Workplace
Model Leadership: What Gen Z Looks for in a Leader
Barry Telford
Barry Telford
CEO, Universities West, Sodexo North America President, Sodexo Canada

“I’m not afraid of an army of lions led by sheep. I’m afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” It’s a quote about leadership that is famously attributed to Alexander the Great. The quote vividly describes a charismatic leader who empowers those who follow, while also inspiring in them courage. This could just as easily describe the qualities that Gen Z most values and respects in organizational leaders according to newly published survey results from Sodexo.

The findings are particularly significant as talent recruiters and HR professionals look to replenish a talent pipeline that will lose approximately 10,000 Baby Boomers through retirement every day for the next 11 years according to data from the Pew Research Center. Gen Z, the newest wave of talent, will soon surpass Millennials as the largest workforce demographic (20 percent by 2020) and it will become important to have a clear understanding of their workplace and leadership expectations.

In asking “What do you value and respect most in an organizational leader?” respondents were asked to rank the following five characteristics in the order of which they were most valued and respected:

  • Ability to drive revenue
  • Decisiveness
  • Adaptability
  • Humility
  • Transparency
  • Empowerment & Courage

The attribute that was most valued and respected was Empowerment and Courage (35 percent). These attributes also map to the four specific leadership behaviors that Catalyst research found as being integral to inclusion. Why else might this be important?

While Gen Z has only recently entered the workforce, there are studies to indicate that the generation will return to being considerably more loyal to organizations or institutions than job-hopping Millennials who precede it. It’s no small matter when considering that the cost to replace entry level employees can be upwards of 30 and 40 percent of their salary. That cost can quickly increase to as much as 400 percent when associated with replacing high-level or highly specialized employees.

Forward-thinking HR and workforce development teams will take advantage of these insights as a means of shaping organizational and leadership strategy. They will identify creative means to leverage the entire student journey, from pre-graduation to corporate onboarding, always uncovering opportunities for face-to-face interaction with leadership. Interactions might take place in the form of on-campus presentations, mentoring programs, executive sponsorships for diversity and inclusion employee resource groups and more.

It is critical, however, that these desirable leadership qualities also support and align with other critical engagement drivers, if the organization is to benefit from organizational loyalty.

To learn more about Sodexo’s Generation Z survey results, including implications for workplace expectations and group identity, download the full report, titled: Guiding Gen Z from Campus to Corporate Life: What College and University Administrators and Talent Recruiters Need to Know.



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