5 Questions for School Leaders: Nadira Hira on Generation Y

As a member of the 2013 NAIS Annual Conference Think Tank I had the good fortune to introduce Ms. Nadira Hira as the first featured workshop speaker for NAIS’ 2013 Annual Conference. I will admit that I knew little of Ms. Hira and her work before being assigned to introduce her. However, the more I researched her work prior to coming to the conference the more I was impressed with what I found. So, it was no surprise that when I met her before the session I found an incredibly knowledgeable, warm and engaging young woman who, despite some incredible adventures as a journalist, was as down to earth as one could imagine.

After she delivered her talk, “Crossing the (Generational) Line” Ms. Hira was gracious enough to spend 30 minutes with me chatting about Gen Y, school leaders, and what we could do to help the Gen-Y’ers in our communities.

Below is the distillation of that conversation.....

On Parents of Gen-Y’ers.....
Generation-Y was raised by late stage Baby Boomers and early stage Gen-X’ers, what is the one thing that school leaders need to know about the parents of Gen-Y’ers when dealing with the young faculty and rising leaders in our schools?

The one thing to know about parents of Gen-Y is that they are challenging. However, they do not have to be if you understand where they are coming from. The parents of Gen-Y’ers were told to live the American Dream of having it all, work and family, but what we have found is that having it all often led to regrets. The divorce rate of the parents of Gen-Y’ers is high as well as the guilt of being separated from their children because of the work/family life balance they were trying to achieve. What this means is that parents of Gen-Y’ers are trying to hang onto their kids like we have never seen before.

The other side of the parents hanging on to their kids is that Gen-Y’ers are more often “friends” with their parents. They are also living out the lives that their parents sometimes wish they could in regard to the work/life balance. This means that Gen-Y’ers are often in the same time and space as their parents. For example, a mom who is 50 might be divorced, single again, and have lots of girl friends much like her twenty-something daughter. So they have shared experiences just at different ages and that furthers the friend bond.

What school leaders can remember is that they need to give permission to their Gen-Y’ers to do things on their own. Encourage them. By giving them the insight about being involved in our schools and doing things on their own they will rise to the occassion.

On Technology and Gen-Y’ers.....
How does Gen-Y approach technology and what do school leaders need to know about that use?

Gen-Y’ers take a holistic approach to technology and despite technology changes moving quickly they are able to integrate technology into their daily lives with ease. However, the downside of this ease with technology is it does not always occur to them that it is not appropriate to use technology at all times. Therefore, it is the role of the school leader to provide insights into how to use it and how not to use it and provide boundaries and guidelines for their Gen-Y faculty and students.

While some school leaders might not think this is necessary you have to remember that Generation-Y is really Gen-WHY and because Gen-Y’ers always need to know the why behind decisions and conversations school leaders need to provide examples and boundaries for them.

The other important thing to remember is that school leaders need to use the technology themselves in order to help and to be credible with the Gen-Y crowd.

On Fear and Gen-Y’ers.....
Gen-Y’ers are often afraid to take initiative and lead for fear of making mistakes. What can school leaders do to help foster leadership in our Gen-Y faculty and staff?

Gen-Y’ers grew up being told that failure is not an option. In order to get them to be more open and willing to share in committees and meetings school leaders need to give them encouragement one to one. One suggestion I give company executives is to designate a front person for Gen-Y and develop an affinity group for Gen-Y’ers to gather regularly and share about their work experiences. The affinity groups are huge in helping to tap into the talents of the Gen-Y’ers in your organizations.

The other thing to know about Gen-Y’ers is that they thrive on information as a way to understand the why of what’s happening in organizations. The more information they have about the things going on in your schools the more likely they will feel comfortable in sharing during meetings.

Finally, having specific Gen-Y mentor programs in place will help them feel more knowledgeable about your organization.

On Fulfillment and Gen-Y’ers.....
Gen-Y has a big need to be fulfilled while knowing what their path will be. What steps can schools take to effectively lead both their Gen-Y students and faculty down that path?

Gen-Y’ers often led over structured lives growing up. In order to help them feel fulfilled they need to have lots of experiences but those experiences must happen in deep ways.

As school leaders you need to let them have experiences. You need to send them into the world with friends and colleagues and let them have open creative learning experiences. Then, when they return from those experiences have opportunities for them to have good, thoughtful reflection on those journeys.

Encourage your Gen-Y’ers to have those experiences up front and have them share together. They will gain value because the experiences are shared.

On Diversity and Gen-Y’ers.....
It has been said that Gen-Y is racial blind but that blindness often means they do not feel they need to converse about diversity. How can we have meaningful conversations in our schools about diversity with both our Gen-Y parents and students?

School leaders need to remind Gen-Y’ers that there is still an issue in this country with regard to race. People need to accept that this is an issue. The trouble is that we often come at the conversation from a place of judgement so leaders need to set the table. If you can remove the feeling of being attacked and remove the shield that people put up then you can have really good, thoughtful conversations about race and diversity.

The beautiful thing about independent schools are that they are thoughtful and they really want to push boundaries. Someone one needs to come in and be honest. You have to start there first and then the conversations will be fruitful.