How to lead a graduate?

18.09.2017

How to lead a graduate?

This is a series of articles where Studentwork Finland’s CEO Emmi Kantonen is writing about how to lead, engage and motivate graduates and about the importance of culture and values for young talents. In this first article Kantonen ponders the leadership for graduates based on her own experience and our wide ”Graduates at work 2017” study where we had 3000 attendants in Finland and in Sweden.

Part 1 - How to lead a graduate?

Many people talk about millennials, others about Generation Y. At Studentwork we talk about graduates or young talents which most of our own employees are here at Studentwork. Graduates are the new wave in work life - they bring new knowhow for companies especially in Tech field and they are bravely ready to step into the baby-boom generations shoes when they are about to leave.


A graduate is a person whose grandparents and parents have shown great example of long careers and relentless work ethics. Graduates have admired their perseverance and the pride they have had in their working life. This is a good thing and because of that today’s graduates have adopted great qualities from the previous generations. A graduate has seen a very different work life than the one we have today, through their parents and grandparents. Based on my own experience there is a lot of variety with the visions and values among graduates. You cannot put every 20- or 30-year-old to the same category when talking about the expectations for leadership and management.


Well then, how should one proceed with the topic of “How to lead a graduate?” My suggestion is to focus on the individual when supporting an employee. Individual support and coaching has grown into one of the hottest topics among leadership today. It means that a supervisor understands and is aware of the diversity of his/her team members and the whole approach to develop their knowhow is seen from the individuals’ perspective. Let’s take an example with sales team X. In the sales team X every employee has exactly the same role in paper. Supervisor might assume (without a better knowledge of different expectations) that the same communication, same rewarding system and the same amount of attention works with every team member - after all they are doing the same job. This is not the case anymore. As in our “Graduates at work” survey the statistics show, the graduates appreciate novel matters in working life and will demand these from their employer. A graduate needs feedback, wants to learn new skills and become more competitive. They also want to establish a strong relation with co-workers – each of them on their own way. So, the best way to build a winning team from graduates is to cherish their individual skills and to coach them as an individual sport coach would. Some of you might think now that I’m encouraging everyone to build a team of individualists that are only “doing their own thing”, but no, that´s not the case. A good supervisor will find the way to communicate and lead the team towards the joint goal even though the individuals can bloom through their strengths and make progress with their weak spots.


Freedom and creativity are also something that a graduate expects from their work life and their supervisor. Every now and then it creates a dilemma with certain individuals and teams. I have seen this kind of situations a couple of times during my career: A graduate having high expectations for freedom and creativity but at the same time not understanding the basic rules of the work life or the “basic level expectations for the role”. In these cases, one must learn and the supervisor to coach common rules of work life and successful working methods. After that you can set the target (freedom and creativity) as the next steps to achieve. Responsibility, freedom and creativity are elements that should be there for everyone to achieve. At the same time, they are not foregone conclusion and one must work hard and do profound groundwork to reach them. I believe that this is the way to build a strong base for highly motivated and self-guided organization. When coaching graduates, the ground work is crucial; when you do that, your company is competitive and your young talents can pursue for “anything”.


Not long ago a consultant asked me “has your team member developed on your watch?”. I think that was an excellent question and I often keep asking that question from myself. A graduate expects that you as a supervisor have the interest and patience to help him/her to develop. So, if you haven’t had time for that, please take a moment and book a meeting with your employee to find out his/her strengths, weaknesses, dreams and expectations towards you as a supervisor, as their personal coach.

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