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on Leading the Next Generation


5 Four-Letter Words to Generation Y

You know what a four-letter word is. It’s a bad word. It’s a word that mom taught you to never use. It was often a swear word (translate that cuss word). It was evil.

Well, I have a list today that Generation Y (the Millennials) would say are four-letter words to them. Bad words. Ideas they hate and avoid. My son, Jonathan, and I met recently and discussed this list together. He is a member of Generation Y. If you lead students or even young adults—you will want to avoid this list of literal four letter words as you plan, manage, mentor and lead them this year. I will share five more words tomorrow.

1. Wait.

You know this. Students today, by and large, are not good at delaying gratification. I have said before, they have a “Google Reflex.” They’re used to getting feedback, food, answers, affirmation, toys and resources…now. Things are instant. They expect them to be. You’ll have to be intentional about teaching patience and pace.

2. Copy.

Students abhor thinking they might be a copy of someone else. To them, everyone is unique and awesome. They are all special. To simply emulate someone else; to be an imitation of another brand (while they may be guilty of this) is an idea they hate. Find unique features about the students you lead and tell them.

3. Dues.

I discovered in every focus group I’ve led, young people have a disdain for the phrase: “You gotta pay your dues. You don’t have anything to say yet, you’re too young. Get a little experience—pay your dues—and we’ll let you participate later.” They want to be listened to now, believing they have something to say.

4. Fear.

Even though nearly every Generation Y student I interact with admits to having fears and insecurities—fear is a word they avoid. “No Fear” is a term they grew up with. So, they exhibit and sometimes feign confidence and security in front of others. We must help them get past this pretense and help them genuinely face their fears.

5. Solo.

May I remind you this generation of students rarely does anything alone. They hate being disconnected. In fact, the average adolescent is disconnected from technology (Social networking sites) only one hour a day. They often won’t make a decisions without getting consensus from friends. We must teach them to stand on their own.

I recognize these words are anecdotal, but they come from years of working with about 50,000 students annually. And…a candid informal focus group with my son.

Tomorrow, I will provide five more words for you.

What are your thoughts? Any words you want to add to this list?



  1. Charles Flemming on June 23, 2011 at 6:45 am

    I love this. I see so much of this with my own kids. And with the young staffers who lead our ministry teams at church.

    The thought occurs to me that one thing we might need to teach Gen Y, and that they might–if properly presented to them–find useful, is the inverse of this blog:

    Equipping Gen Y to evangelize the Boomers.

    I mean this both spiritually (many of the young adults and students in our church, for instance, are becoming Christ followers while their parents, aunts, and uncles don’t know him yet) and technologically/socially (most of us in my generation need the more fruitful of the social values and technologies embraced by Gen Y).

    There’s a revolution of re-connecting and reaching out going on among my generation through Facebook and Twitter. Where do you suppose we got the idea to do that?

  2. Clay Morgan on June 24, 2011 at 9:06 am

    No arguments here. I often say Gen Y is delusional, and that word “wait” is certainly at the core of such a statement. 

  3. Tammy Wagner on July 13, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    This is so true, and so well-formed! I haven’t read your next post yet, but I would add the word “date,” as their noncommittal status prefers to just “hang out” (even though that started with my generation, X, I think) as well as “duty.” On a religious note, I think John Piper has done an excellent job delineating Christian duty within the framework of true delight, which greatly appeals to this generation.

    By the way, I noticed a phrase you might want to fix (proofreader here!): “wont’ make a decisions” should be “won’t make decisions,” right? 🙂

    • Tim Elmore on July 26, 2011 at 3:10 pm

      Those are great additions to the list! Thanks again for catching that typo!

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5 Four-Letter Words to Generation Y