I wish you could meet Lizzy. Or Dane. Or, for that matter, Seth and Carly. These students have all been born since September 11, 2001—a marker in our U.S. history that will always divide those born in the 20th century from those born afterward. I was with these students recently and immediately noticed a different perspective in them as teens than the one I saw in Millennials fifteen years ago.


photo credit: prodigaldog via photopin cc

At Growing Leaders, we work with both teens and twenty-somethings, helping them move from backpack to briefcase and become leaders along the way. After being in front of thousands of these younger students, I want to offer a list of six defining characteristics I’ve seen in them as teens. Keep in mind, the jury is still out: while these attributes are on the radar screen now, the students are still young, and change is always in the wind. For now, however, it might do us some good pay attention to these six:


While the students I met were fairly happy and well-adjusted, they are not giddy like so many Generation Y kids were in the 90s. They tend to be more realistic not idealistic, seemingly jaded from the tough economy, terrorism and complexities of life.


Perhaps its because they watched their older siblings get in trouble from posting controversial content on social media, but younger teens don’t want to be tracked. Apps like Snapchat and Whisper have seen explosive growth in the last few years. In contrast, Facebook has lost 25 percent of this demographic since 2011.


Like Millennials, these students plan to be pioneers, not merely settlers in a career. 72% of current high school students want to start a business. They feel like hackers, not slackers. Since they’re more jaded, they know life is hard and requires work.


By almost every measurement so far, these Gen Z kids will take multi-taking to a new level. They prefer to be on 5 screens at once, not 2 screens like Millennials. Get ready to communicate to them while they look around, not into your eyes.


Generation Z has communicated enough with marketing researchers and academics to reveal that they experience: 4D Thinking. Because their minds are streaming in so many directions, they’ve become post-moderns who are hyperaware of their surroundings.


This one won’t surprise you. If we thought Millennials were addicted to technology, get ready for more. In surveys, these teens put technology in the same category as air and water. They cannot imagine living without being connected all the time.

So…are you ready for these kids?

Learn More about Generation Z
In a Bonus Chapter from the new Generation iY

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See the New iY Here

This new edition includes bonus chapters. new research, and recent stories that help adults:

  • Adopt education strategies that engage an “i” generation
  • Employ their strengths and styles on the job
  • Correct crippling parenting styles
  • Repair damage from (unintentional) lies we’ve told students
  • Guide young adults toward real success instead of superficial “self-esteem”
  • Understand the generation following Millennials: Generation Z

Last year, a story broke in Europe that made its way across the Atlantic Ocean. In a strange episode of entitlement and distorted perspectives, a college-age young man from Switzerland set fire to a Ferrari 458 Italia given to him by his dad.

Why, you ask?

It was a ridiculous scheme to use the insurance money to upgrade to a new model. That’s right — he just didn’t like the gift his dad had given him. Evidently the Ferrari wasn’t up to his standards. After all, the spoiled young man is said to have fourteen other cars (including a Lamborghini) at his disposal, not to mention almost $30 million and a monthly allowance between $5K and $10K. With possessions like that, you can bet a new gift better be very, very special.

I know. This almost seems comical and unreal. I wish it were.

But Swiss publication 20 Minutes reported this story in March of 2014. The young man visited a dealership to get his car valued so that he could trade it in for a new model. The quote he received was $193,500, which wasn’t enough to cover the cost of the one he wanted. Since he didn’t have the funds to make up the difference and didn’t want to wait for two more months of allowance, he schemed with the dealer to find a secluded place to set the car on fire and collect the insurance money. When they tried, the plan backfired. Between security cameras and cell phone call records, the plot was discovered and the young man was sentenced to 22 months probation and a fine of $33,000. In court, he said he just didn’t have the courage to tell his father he no longer liked the gift he’d been given. What a pity.

A Picture of a Spreading Mindset

I’ll be the first to admit this story is an exaggerated picture of the sense of entitlement we see too often in our generation. Frequently, both adults and students have caught this repulsive sense of entitlement: the feeling that we deserve more than what we currently have, that we are “worth it” and should have choices when it comes to luxuries and lavish lifestyles. We merit perks and rewards at every turn. I hate it when I spot this attitude in myself. Where do we get this idea? I see it coming at us from almost every angle:

  • Marketing ads, all of which constantly tell us we deserve more.
  • An affluent culture where we enjoy more luxuries than ever before.
  • The media that tells stories of rich and famous people enjoying more than us.
  • A new parenting report card that demands we get our kids the latest toys.

Eight Warning Signs We Can Look For

My guess is, you see this sense of entitlement too often as well. But how do we spot it? Below, I offer a few “cues” to look for that signal a drift into a sense of entitlement, inspired by the story of the son and his Ferrari:

  1. Beware when you assume a gift automatically entitles you to a better one.

You know you’re living high on “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs” when you’ve grown way past concern about food, clothing or a roof over your head. While the son had all of his needs met and more, he was still dissatisfied. This young man felt entitled to something more than what he’d been given. That’s repulsive.

  1. Beware when you believe you should always get a choice.

It’s almost unbelievable that this young man assumed he got to choose when it comes to gifts given to him. He felt he had the right to accept or decline the gift. Our world offers many choices, but it’s healthy once in a while to realize that sometimes, there’s only one choice, and we must learn to live with it.

  1. Beware when others endorse your sense of entitlement.

We’ve stooped pretty low when we see others displaying a sense of entitlement and don’t call it what it is. Someone should have said, “Hey man, do you realize this is a Ferrari? Millions would love to have this thing. Why don’t you give it away?” Instead, others merely emulated this rich young man’s attitude and plotted to burn the gift.

  1. Beware when your intoxication suggests you deserve your every desire.

This one is huge. My parents grew up during the Great Depression, and while dad ended up making a huge salary throughout his career, he made sure his kids were grateful for having their basic needs met. Anything more was a luxury, a bonus, a cherry on top. The young man was intoxicated by his greed and didn’t see it.

  1. Beware when you’re so narcissistic you don’t recognize immoral pursuits.

Evidently, the young man was so caught up in what he wanted that he wasn’t able to see how immoral and illegal his plot was. He’s now serving a sentence and paying a fine for it. Selfishness can be blinding. Robert Heinlein said: Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing one.

  1. Beware when you care little that your attitude will be noticed.

The young man plummeted to an even lower level of scum in my opinion. He didn’t seem to even care what his behavior looked like. He had to know his dad would see the new car if the plot worked, yet it didn’t bother him. He was careless, and now he is car-less. He was reckless, and now he is recognized for his immaturity.

  1. Beware when you can only see what you don’t have instead of what you have.

This one is omnipresent in modern America. We are far more apt to notice the possessions or perks we do not enjoy, rather than recognize the ones we do. We are reminded at every turn that there’s more out there in cyberspace or the shopping mall. Ben Franklin said, “If all but myself were blind, I should want neither fine clothes nor fine houses.” The young man felt he was “less” until he got more.

  1. Beware when you feel entitled to make whatever use of others you want.

When we are inebriated by a sense of entitlement, we become utilitarian. We will use people and love things, rather than loving people and using things. Like a king intoxicated with power, a person suffering from a sense of entitlement will begin behaving in ways they’d never dream of if they had perspective.

A final caution. Beware when you’re blind to how these acts end up costing you. In the end, the young man paid dearly for what he thought would be a free car of his choice. A sense of entitlement almost always costs you.

Released Today: The 5th Anniversary Edition of Generation iY!

Discover the Secrets to Connecting With Teens and Young Adults

See the New iY Here

This new edition includes bonus chapters. new research, and recent stories that help adults:

  • Adopt education strategies that engage an “i” generation
  • Employ their strengths and styles on the job
  • Correct crippling parenting styles
  • Repair damage from (unintentional) lies we’ve told students
  • Guide young adults toward real success instead of superficial “self-esteem”
  • Understand the generation following Millennials: Generation Z

I spend the majority of my time doing leadership development with young adults. Recently, I was with a group on a state university campus, and it seemed every one of them was passionate about changing the world… but they weren’t in a hurry to settle into adult life. For them, the ages between 18 and 26 are a sort of sandbox, a chance to build castles and knock them down and experiment with different careers, knowing that none of them really count. Not yet anyway.

Time magazine reported on this phenomenon and concluded that young people are just overwhelmed with adulthood. They see the obstacles, the opposition, the opportunities, and especially the options. There are 40 different kinds of coffee beans at Whole Foods Market, almost 1,000 channels on DirecTV, 15 million ads on Match.com, and 800,000 jobs posted on Monster.com. What’s more, the U.S. Census Bureau says over 16 million college students are competing for those jobs.

So I thought I would ask them a question: What do young adults perceive to be the doorway to adulthood? Their answer may surprise you.

It was a moving target for many, so I wasn’t surprised when most of the students that day couldn’t give me an age, like 18 or 21. It wasn’t about legally drinking alcohol or voting or serving in the military. (That marker seemed too young for them). Expectations of maturity are… well, fuzzy.

A nationwide survey was released on this very topic. When should we expect a young adult to consider him or herself an “adult”? When do we become “grown ups”? Unlike my day, it isn’t about getting a driver’s license or graduating from high school or college. It’s not even getting married. The top response from this nationwide survey was, “Having your first child.” Wow. Seriously?

Consider what this means.

The medium age for this milestone is 27. (In Europe, it’s even higher.) So in essence, these college students are communicating that they don’t expect to take ownership of their life and be independent until they have a baby. Even twice-married Britney Spears fits the profile. For a brief summary of the predicament of so many, you can’t do much better than her song, “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.”

We Need Them to Mature

I often hear adults say, “What’s the rush? Why make these young people grow up so fast? After all, they’ll likely live until they’re 90 or 100, so why not let them lag a little and stay a kid longer?”

The truth is, we need these young adults to actually become adults on time. Over the next fifteen years, half the workforce will be departing. (The Baby Boomers will eventually have to retire). Even if everyone in Generation X was a brilliant leader, there would not be enough of them to fill the vacancies left by the Boomers. These Millennials—even Generation iY—will be needed to manage and lead others.

Further, the longer they remain kids—being merely consumers, not taxpayers—the less they actually contribute to our economy. Quite frankly, many have racked up college debt, and those who didn’t may just be spending their parents’ retirement money. Neither are good scenarios for them to remain a “kid.”

What’s more, young adults inherently possess intuition, passion and creativity that has long since been worn down in veterans like me. I want to be surrounded by twenty-somethings who want to weigh in and share their ideas and energy. Our team at Growing Leaders is full of people under 35 years old. They have much to offer, and we have much to gain.

What You Can Do to Help Them Pursue Adulthood

While I believe we must let kids be kids, by the time they reach their teen years, it is healthy for them to engage in the real world and take on increasing responsibility. I suggest the following as ideas to help adolescents anticipate adulthood:

  1. Introduce them to role models who have stepped into adulthood. Help them see it’s possible to be 18-21 and actually self-regulate or be self-employed.
  1. Expose them to facts and facsimiles. Share engaging stories from the real world; let them become familiar with real-world environments.
  1. Help them find mentors in the industry they’re interested in. There is not a better way to whet their appetite than for them to meet folks in their future.
  1. Enable them to see the rewards of leaving childhood pleasures and embracing adult responsibilities, including both the income and benefits.

The truth is, adulthood began much earlier for generations a hundred years ago. It is totally possible to be an adult at 18, but we just haven’t expected it.

Releasing Tomorrow: The 5th Anniversary Edition of Generation iY

GeniY2.0_Ad1 (1)

This new edition includes bonus chapters. new research, and recent stories that help adults:

  • Adopt education strategies that engage an “i” generation
  • Employ their strengths and styles on the job
  • Correct crippling parenting styles
  • Repair damage from (unintentional) lies we’ve told students
  • Guide young adults toward real success instead of superficial “self-esteem”
  • Understand the generation following Millennials: Generation Z



Yesterday, I blogged about giving students permission to take initiative. They often fail to step out and assume responsibility because they’re afraid of failure or doing something their leaders won’t like. I have found that most students need me to give them permission to act in order to feel empowered.

Today, I want to take it a step further.

I believe untapped ingenuity lies dormant inside students and young team members because we don’t allow them to think for themselves. We don’t foster creativity — we simply tell them what to do and how to do it. We are “prescriptive” in our leadership, rather than “descriptive.”

Prescriptive Leadership: Sets a goal, then furnishes the precise steps a person should take in order to reach the goal. The person doesn’t need to think for herself but merely follow the prescribed plan.

Descriptive Leadership: Meets with the person and sets the goal, then allows him or her to attempt to come up with their own steps to reach it. This allows for creativity and personal style in order for the person and target to match.



Perhaps you’ve read Terrance O’Hanlon’s article on the toothpaste company who spent loads of money to solve a problem on the assembly line. It’s a dandy. For those of you who haven’t seen it, here is Terrence’s post from LinkedIn:

Solving the Empty Box Problem

A toothpaste factory had a problem. They sometimes shipped empty boxes without the tube inside. This was due to the way the production line was set up, and people with experience in designing production lines will tell you how difficult it is to have everything happen with timings so precise that every single unit coming out of it is perfect 100% of the time. Small variations in the environment (which can’t be controlled in a cost-effective fashion) means you must have quality assurance checks smartly distributed so customers don’t get angry and buy another product instead.

Understanding how important that was, the CEO of the toothpaste factory got the top people in the company together and they decided to start a new project in which they would hire an external engineering company to solve their empty boxes problem since their engineering department was already too stretched to take on any extra effort. 

The project followed the usual process: budget and project sponsor allocated, RFP and third-parties selected. Six months (and $8 million) later, they had a fantastic solution—on time, on budget, high quality and everyone in the project had a great time. They solved the problem by using high-tech precision scales that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box would weigh less than it should. The line would stop and someone would have to walk over and yank the defective box out of it, pressing another button when done to restart the line.

A while later, the CEO decides to have a look at the ROI of the project and sees amazing results! No empty boxes ever shipped out of the factory after the scales were put in place. There were very few customer complaints and they were gaining market share. “That’s some money well spent!,” he says, before looking closely at the other statistics in the report.

It turns out the number of defects picked up by the scales was zero after three weeks of production use. It should have been picking up at least a dozen a day, so maybe there was something wrong with the report.  

Puzzled, the CEO travels down to the factory and walks up to the part of the line where the precision scales are installed. A few feet before the scale was an inexpensive desk fan blowing the empty boxes off of the belt and into a bin. 

“Oh, that,” says one of the workers, “one of the guys put it there ‘cause he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang.”

Descriptive Leadership

Intriguing story, huh? A simple $20 desk fan actually solved the problem. No need to spend $8 million to outsource the solution. Red tape and protocol isn’t always necessary—if we’ll train and trust our people to think for themselves. Ingenuity comes when it must. So how do we become more “descriptive” leaders? Let me get you started on some ideas below… but remember think for yourself.

  1. Constantly cast vision for the big picture to your team.
  2. Share the gritty details of budgets and hurdles that must be managed.
  3. When problems arise, communicate them to your team.
  4. Assign people with suitable strengths to solve those problems.
  5. Stop demanding people take assigned steps. Let them create their own steps.
  6. Equip people to be resourceful, sharing stories of problems solved cheaply.
  7. Reward every effort where someone solves a problem innovatively.
  8. Be a consultant, not a controller—let people seek you out if they need help.

If we want to cultivate leaders, we’re going to have to make intentional shifts.

Help Students Become College & Career Ready With:

Habitudes® for Career Ready Students: The Art of Preparing for a Career

Habitudes for Career Ready Students

Habitudes for Career Ready Students is a curriculum specifically designed for Generation Y that helps them:

  • Persevere when faced with a problem they must solve
  • Identify and harness the unique creativities they possess
  • Learn how to work on a team with diverse personalities
  • Leverage critical thinking skills to see an issue from many perspectives

Learn More & Order Here

Several months ago, I sat down with some of our student interns at Growing Leaders to talk about their experience. Three of them were in their final week with us, so the meeting gave us a chance to debrief the experience. It was a sort of exit interview.

I expressed how important problem solving was to both their success in college and as a young professional—and asked them what hindered them from stepping out and taking more risks to solve problems. We had a lively discussion about how easy it is for today’s students:

  1. To hide behind merely asking questions, instead of figuring things out.
  2. To wait for someone else to act rather than taking initiative.
  3. To just “color in the lines” and do what’s easy instead of what’s hard.
  4. To remain content doing only what’s expected instead of exceeding expectations.
  5. To let fear over stepping out and doing the unfamiliar paralyze us.

After the meeting was over, one of our stellar interns reminded me of something I forget far too often. She confided in me that she hesitated to initiate, not wanting to step out of bounds or make a mistake by doing something we didn’t want her to do. In short, she told me she was looking for permission.

What an incredible concept. Often, students need us to give them permission to act.

Giving Them Permission

I realize this may sound like an excuse for some students, but I believe many have grown up in a world where they’ve been told exactly what to do. They’ve been spoon-fed answers by teachers and prescribed every step to take by parents and coaches. Due to adult fear of litigation, of students’ immaturity, or because we don’t trust them to make good decisions, we just offer imperatives: Here are the steps you should take. So now, if we want them to take initiative, to take a risk and do some problem solving, we need to tell them. They need to hear us say it.


When we express to them that they have permission to act…

  • It provides them with authority.
  • It makes them feel safe to try something new.
  • It extends the boundaries they felt until then.
  • It communicates great expectations.
  • It offers them confidence to act.
  • It unleashes creativity inside them.
  • It furnishes ownership of the issues to them.

In short, we must verbally give them permission so they feel empowered.

You’ve probably read of William McKnight, former executive at 3M. McKnight would leave the lights on at the plant overnight, encouraging employees to explore new ideas. He’d even give them a bit of funding for the untold fruits of their labors along the way. As a result, the original Post-it® Notes came from this permission 3M offered.

You’ve likely heard of Google’s “extra day” each week, where they encourage team members to work on projects of their choosing—but they must be focused on solving a problem as they work. The now popular Gmail account was created during such days. All the creative team members needed was permission.

Years ago, I had a student intern working on a project, but after three weeks, I felt very disappointed with his progress. When talking about it, he sheepishly asked if he could approach the project in a different manner. Unwittingly, I had recommended he follow the steps I had taken when I handled the project personally. I was very open to his new approach and soon saw the genius behind giving him permission to pursue the goal his own way. He set up a system that was far more efficient than the one I’d created. We still use it to this day.

It’s amazing what permission can do. When we turn them loose and empower them with such permission, students come up with some of the most amazing solutions. In fact, we now have a sign in our office that says:

When you were a child, you were told not to take things that didn’t belong to you. Here, our mission belongs to you. We give you permission to take:

  • Responsibility
  • Initiative
  • Risks

Help Students Become College & Career Ready With:

Habitudes® for Career Ready Students: The Art of Preparing for a Career

Habitudes for Career Ready Students

Habitudes for Career Ready Students is a curriculum specifically designed for Generation Y that helps them:

  • Persevere when faced with a problem they must solve
  • Identify and harness the unique creativities they possess
  • Learn how to work on a team with diverse personalities
  • Leverage critical thinking skills to see an issue from many perspectives

Learn More & Order Here