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Building Leaders for the Next Decade

By Universum on 04/04/2017

How to support the workplace goals of Generation X, Y and Z

  • The importance of reaching a leadership position – based on the global average – is high within each generation. Over 60 percent of Gen Z and Gen Y cite it as important.
  • Work-life balance is a significant barrier to leadership for Gen Y and Gen X professionals.
  • The way women think about leadership varies significantly from men – and the implications are serious for employers who want to promote them.
  • Stress – be it the perception generation cite it of stress or experience with it – prevents many from seeking out leadership roles.
  • The insights from this eBook are based on an annual survey of over 18,000 students and professionals worldwide.

Stockholm, April 4thIs there a gap between how one generation wants to lead and how another generation wants to be led? How does this gap vary across genders and geographies? In an effort to uncover how employers can support the career goals of their multigenerational workforces, employer branding thought leader Universum, along with INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute, The HEAD Foundation and MIT Leadership Center  have released “Building Leaders for the Next Decade”, the third and final eBook from this year’s Generations series.

In this capstone report, Universum and its collaborators explore what Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z think about leadership. What attracts them to leadership roles? What gives them pause? Do these ideas vary by country? And how do women think differently about leadership than men?

“Gen Y and Gen Z have changed the dynamics of the workplace. Have they also changed the way leadership is exercised? The answer turns out to be nuanced” Said Henrik Bresman, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior; Academic Director, INSEAD Global Leadership Centre; Senior Advisor, The HEAD Foundation.

Vinika D. RaoExecutive Director of INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute added, “Even as Gen Y and Gen Z are altering the workplace, they may also be changing the traditional patterns of organizational leadership behavior that Generation X has gotten used to.  As companies strive to build their leadership pipelines, it’s important to understand the gaps between how one generation wants to lead and how another generation wants to be led.”

The importance of reaching a leadership position – based on the global average – is high within each generation. Over 60 percent of Gen Z and Gen Y cite it as important. Gen X is slightly less enthusiastic – 57 percent say it matters. Yet if we examine the findings by country, enthusiasm about leadership positions varies tremendously. In the Nordic countries, for example, respondents are much less likely to think leadership is important, while respondents from Mexico were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about it.

These findings are important for companies to understand because they may point to significant talent development hurdles within the organization, and not always the most obvious ones. For example, a company with a presence in the Nordic countries might use the data to understand its own executive workforce better, and investigate leadership development options for its high-potential candidate.
Yet in Mexico, the opposite is true: how can you keep workers motivated who may be interested in leadership, but who won’t attain it? Research from the eBook shows 76 percent of Gen Y professionals from Mexico say attaining a leadership role is important. Realistically, some portion of those who indicated it is important will not achieve it as there are not enough traditional leadership roles to make that attainable.

Regarding the attractive aspects of leadership, women are more likely to enjoy the challenging work involved (this is particularly true of Gen X women), as well as coaching and mentoring others (Gen X and Gen Y women professionals). Men in all generations are much more likely than women to say that leadership is attractive due to high future earnings and a high level of responsibility.

“Stress, be it the perception of stress or experience with it is the top reason cited by all generations that prevents many from seeking out leadership roles” said Universum’s Senior Vice President, Jonna Sjövall. She continued “58% of Gen Z cited stress as the factor that makes leadership roles unappealing. Even the older, wiser Gen X isn’t immune, with 52% of the respondents from this generation citing that it is the stress associated with leadership roles that makes them unattractive, however as we highlight in the report, certain countries a more concerned about stress than others.”

The insights from this eBook are based on an annual survey of over 18,000 students and professionals worldwide – from Gen Xers who’ve been in the workplace for two decades to Gen Z students.

About Universum:
Universum is the global leader in employer branding, During our 25+ years we have established ourselves in 60 markets throughout the globe and our diverse workforce is physically present in 20 countries. Our services include actionable research, strategic advisory, data driven communication and social media solutions for talent branding, sourcing and analytics. A trusted partner to over 1,700 clients, including many Fortune 500 companies, as well as global media partners that publish our annual rankings and trend reports. We work with over 2000 universities, alumni groups, and professional organizations to gather insights from students and professionals in order to advise employers on how to attract and retain talent that fits their culture and purpose.  On an annual basis Universum surveys over 1,500,000 students and professionals worldwide. Find out more at

About INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute:
The INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute (EMI) is a leading think tank on issues related to economic development and business management in emerging economies across the globe. It creates knowledge through research and disseminates it for practical application by the corporations, governments and organizations that seek to leverage the opportunities offered by these growth markets. EMI develops cutting edge pedagogical material, research publications and data sets related to emerging markets. Based at INSEAD’s Asia campus in Singapore, and set up in partnership with the Economic Development Board of Singapore in September 2014, the Emerging Markets Institute reflects the changing focus of global growth.

About The HEAD Foundation:
The HEAD Foundation is an international charitable organization set up in 2013 in Singapore to contribute to the development of Asia. We focus on issues around human capital, education, leadership and sustainability. With an in-house research and project management team, we support research initiatives and social projects related to the above issues. We also run workshops and training programs with scholars, researchers and experts from around the world. To share our knowledge with the community, we publish books, produce research reports and host public events on a regular basis. In the long run, we target to influence policies and create positive social impact which will contribute to the sustainable development of Asia.

About MIT Leadership Center:
At MIT’s Leadership Center (MLC), we are dedicated to the study and practice of modern leadership where people who will change our world won’t be defined by titles. They’re the ones who discern big problems, spot opportunities, and rally others to collectively hack them in creative ways.  They lead through their actions every day. Since 2005, the MIT Leadership Center has served as a platform to reframe the conventional definition of leadership.  By offering access to cutting-edge research, education, and dynamic conversations, we strengthen the capacity of individuals, teams and organizations to develop innovative solutions to complex problems and develop the next generation of leaders worldwide.