Mark McCrindle is a social researcher, best-selling author and professional keynote speaker. In this interview he sits down to discuss the generation he named which describes those born since 2010 – Generation Alpha.
Q. Mark, along with your doctoral studies on leadership, you’re in the process of writing a book on the next generation, which you coined Gen Alpha – describing those born since the year 2010. You were also interviewed by The New York Times on Gen Alpha! But for context, can you tell me a little bit about what the book you’re writing is about?
Sure. Well, the book is on Generation Alpha. We’ve been working our way through the alphabet with these generations from Generation X which is what I am, to Generation Y and now there’s Generation Z now which are those just in the teenage years, and moving into their 20s. But we’ve got a whole generation since then, and we came to the end of the alphabet and we thought, what are they going to be called?
If we go back to 2005, there was the Atlantic storm season, which was the worst on record, and they named storms after the alphabet. Starting with ‘A’ up to ‘Z’. But they had so many storms and hurricanes that year they ran out of letters in the alphabet. So they moved to the Greek alphabet, starting with hurricane alpha and hurricane beta etc. That’s how the nomenclature naming in science works. So I borrowed from that same approach to recognize that having worked our way through the alphabet with the generations, we don’t go back to A. It’s a whole new generation and a whole new millennium, in a whole new era. Hence Generation Alpha. So those born since 2010 are the children of today and that’s what the book that I’m writing is. It’s really all about them and their future.
Q. What are the character traits that’ll be the most important for the next generation of leaders and why do they matter?
Well, the next generation as they think about leadership are going to have to be resilient because they’re going to move across more trends, careers and more change than any prior generation. They’re going to have to be adaptive as well, to thrive amidst all of this change, amidst the global trends. And they’re going to have to have insight, which is the key characteristic of a leader. Insight is ‘Where are things headed?’, ‘What do we need to be prepared for?’. The only reason, a leader can lead is because they know which way to go. And that is because they see things not just as they are but as they will be.
And so this generation will need those insights to prepare to lead into the next. And they’ll also need to have a good understanding of diversity. We’ve got more diverse communities, workplaces, teams and customer bases, in terms of cultural, gender and generational diversity. These leaders will have to not just understand diversity and have it as a symbol of ‘look how diverse we are’, but see it as an asset that there is strength in diversity.
If they can bring a focus across the differences; bring alignment with those diverse team members; a clear vision that unites and brings about outcomes, then they will be very effective and successful leaders indeed.
Q. How can we as parents, managers, teachers, bosses or leaders in whichever sphere of life help develop this emerging generation into the leaders they need to be?
Well, I’d like to think of three E’s that explain this. The first ‘E’ is that we’ve got to Engage with them. To do that, we really need to understand them. We’ve got to connect with them and make sure we communicate in ways that speak their language. What worked for us Gen Xers may not work for Gen Z, and what was effective in a leadership style in the 20th Century is less effective in the 21st. We have to engage with where they’re at.
The second ‘E’ is to Equip. Give them the skills and the competencies that will enable them to thrive in this era. How we equip this generation is again going to be different to how we did it in the past because they don’t need the authority structures. They don’t need the same understanding of hierarchies, or traditional power approaches, because we’re in more collaborative times. We’ve got to equip them with the people skills. They’re the most digitally savvy generation ever, but if someone says ‘well I’m just not a people person’ that’s a problem for a leader because leaders lead people. They don’t lead robots or technologies. We’re moving into a world where there are going to be more robotics, but the robots don’t need someone to talk to them and give them a hug. People need that. So we’ve got to be ‘people people’ and equipping this generation with those people skills – those transferable skills – is going to be key.
The third ‘E’ is to Entrust them. The leaders training the next generation have to ultimately hand over the responsibility. They have to trust those in training. They’ve got to give them the opportunity to step up. They’ve got to create the space in meetings, for example. It shouldn’t always be the older people or the more experienced people that speak first. Let the younger people speak. Give them the opportunity and the chance. Let them take on the stretch challenge so they can be trusted to give it a go. Not everything will work successfully the first time, but that’s how we all grow. So by engaging, equipping and entrusting them, we can set this next generation up well for leadership.
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