Is Gen Z really the problem? Tony Walmsley of Anthony Salons discusses why strong leadership is paramount to the success of the newest generation entering the industry. 

Tony Walmsley

Tony Walmsley

When I am mentoring or educating fellow salon owners, managers and leaders, the same conversations tend to arise. Currently, always one of the top three conversations is around managing Gen Z and the headaches it brings. What I question is whether it’s the behaviour of Gen Z that is the issue, or is it a lack of strong leadership from Gen X and Millennials? 

 Let me explain. 

 In our industry and beyond, the people in leadership positions seem to be so quick to write off Gen Z because of their attitude, behaviour, and beliefs. For me that’s lazy leadership. 

What I see in that generation is more and more people wanting to be something. They have more ambition than ever and are in a rush to get there. Are these bad traits? Certainly not! In fact, 15 to 20 years ago the problem was that there was a lack of those things in a workforce. But maybe that’s what lazy leaders look for – compliance from a workforce. 

Each generation has its own quirks, their own behaviours. It stems from the environment they have been brought up in and what they have been exposed to. 

Tony Walmsley with team

Tony with his team at Anthony John Salons

Gen Z has been brought up in a world where everything is instant. Think about it – most things in their life have been there at a click of a button. Also, and importantly, they have not been allowed to build the same resilience, due to not being exposed to enough challenges and therefore micro doses of failure. This is due to helicopter parenting and the removal of things such as competitive sport and regular tests at school. Third, they have seen people become famous and earn large sums of money for (from the outside at least) appearing not to do very much. And their role models appear more touchable than ever because of social media. 

Then these young adults are thrust into the world of work, and we just expect that they are going to be patient, are going to take constructive feedback well, and that they are going to put the hard yards in before they ‘become somebody’. Why would they do this when up to this point in their life they feel the opposite is true?  

We must show them, teach them, and nurture them to follow us. It’s easier than you think but it’s us as leaders that must adapt to them, not the other way around. 

Each generation has its own quirks, their own behaviours. It stems from the environment they have been brought up in and what they have been exposed to.”

Tony Walmsley

When you look at surveys of what Gen Z want from an employer number one right now is LEADERSHIP. They want leading. For me the problem, is the lack of leadership skills of the people leading them. As leaders we must not be lazy and pivot accordingly. My leadership team members are banned from saying things like, ‘it wasnt like that in my day’. We’re no longer in the90s or early 2000s, which is when most people in management positions trained. This generation is different – our environments and communication styles should be different because of it.  

As leaders we must not be lazy and pivot accordingly.”

Tony Walmsley

I believe it all starts with building strong relationships and trust. This should be the main focus of your induction process. We are more likely to follow people that we like, and it’s your job to make them like you not the other way around. This in turn brings trust, and only then can you start to fully guide your people to get them to realise their potential. 

Gen Z will not be dictated to, they do not want to be managed, but instead coached and mentored. A position in an organisation is no longer enough to bring authority, instead it’s the relationships we build, with clear communication. This creates the feeling of growing together that people look up to and will, in turn, follow. We must create an environment of high challenge AND high support. 

Tony Walmsley at Salon Smart

Tony at Salon Smart 2024

I personally like people who challenge the status quo, who want to be something, who want more and want it NOW. I embrace it, I promote it and I grow from it. Why wouldn’t I want people who are all these things on my team?! In fact, where I struggle is to lead people who aren’t all those things. 

Build relationships, build trust, show them you can help, show them you can help them reach their goals. Always communicate to them the timelines and manage expectations. Motivate, incentivise, and reward them. Mentor them, coach them, and give them the leadership they are so obviously craving! 

Bad leadership will blame a generation. Good leadership will galvanise one. Don’t be intimidated… Grow together.