Rohin Shahi studies computer science at Duke University. After noticing that many people wrongly assume Gen Zers are just younger millennials, he wrote The Z Factor: How to Lead Gen Z to Workplace Success, a book that provides a simple approach to bridging generational gaps and helping Gen Z grow and thrive in the workplace.

How to Lead Gen Z to Workplace Success

by Rohin Shahi

3 Reasons to Listen

  • Generation Z is entering the workforce — will your school be prepared?
  • Mentorship and purpose-driven work matters (more than you think)
  • A surprising answer to how a Gen Zer would build his dream school
Full Transcript Available Here

Daniel: 00:00

Daniel: 03:07 Today’s guest is Rohin Shahi, studies computer science at Duke University. And after noticing that many people wrongly assume Gen Zers are just younger millennials, he wrote The Z Factor: How to Lead Gen Z to Workplace Success, a book that provides a simple approach to bridging generational gaps and helping Gen Z grow and thrive in the workplace. Rohin, welcome to the show.

Rohin: 03:37 Thanks for having me.

Daniel: 03:38 This is an interesting episode for me personally. I don’t think that I do shows like this typically, but as Gen Z matures and is entering the faculty and counselor workforce, I think you have a lot of value to add to help us think about how to best approach this generation. So maybe we can start with a definition and how do you define Generation Z?

Rohin: 04:06 Right? So until recently, the actual boundaries for what makes up Gen Z has been pretty disputed, still is. The metric I use is from the Pew Research Center and it defines Gen Z as people born in 1997 and beyond and hasn’t really been been defined yet. But we know that sometime this decade is kind of when Gen Z ends and then whatever we decide to call the next generation will come up and bring their own unique values and kind of characteristics.

Daniel: 04:38 So 97 and beyond. And basically I think that’s right when I was leaving high school. I graduated in 96 and so that is a lot of fun to just put that age stamp here in the podcast for the ruckus maker listening. And so defining Gen Z is interesting there. What are some of their traits that makes them different than other generations?

Rohin: 05:04 Right. So the fun thing about doing all this is I was doing a lot of research and kind of digging into different, conducting interviews and looking at different research studies to kind of define what makes up Gen Z. But at the same time, these are my peers, these are the people I interact with on a daily basis. And so I think a couple of things that really define us, especially when it comes to work and what we’re hoping to achieve in life is that we’re very, very purpose driven in that when we’re approaching work, whether that be while we’re still in school through our careers, things like that, we’re looking for very meaningful, impactful work. And ultimately, that’s kind of a broad thing to say. And so what I really found is that it’s about making an impact down the line.

Rohin: 05:47 Someone I interviewed, Zach McCurrio, once told me that every problem or product or service that we provide through work ends up impacting a human down the line. And so Gen Zers really want to see that human impact in the work they do. Whether it’s directly face to face or a couple steps down the line. That’s something that’s really meaningful to us and we’re all open to explore. And there’s the idea of doing the same work over and over and over again kind of repetitively isn’t something that’s super appealing to most of us. And it’s about kind of exploring even within a company or some of the different roles available, some of the different job abilities at kind of things you’re able to do. And then beyond that, there’s a whole lot of things, but I think that really kind of gives a good overview of who we are. We’re really, really driven and it’s about trying to find our niche in life.

Daniel: 06:39 When I joined the education industry as a teacher and then moved into formal school leadership, that was a big reason why being able to see the impact I was making with my work on a day-to-day basis, I found to be incredibly satisfying. And so I’m hearing you really drill that in, in terms of being purpose driven. When you were doing your research in thinking about impact down the line, how it impacts that human being you were talking about were there any sort of examples that really illustrate this point? I don’t know if it surprised you or you just found it interesting, but what are some of those types of roles and jobs that you’ve seen providing that purpose driven.

Rohin: 07:22 And so I think something that’s really unique is that a lot of it boils down to us kind of combining things that may not seem immediately relevant. So I give the examples of students at Duke who would, for instance, you would have premed students who are also studying music on the side. And rather than treating that as a hobby, they wanted to integrate that into the work they were potentially going to do by maybe going down music therapy or modeling how music kind of influences the mind. You have a bunch of computer science students who are interested in say sports, looking at really data analytics to drive, you know, machine learning algorithms for the future of sports or really anything. And so I think all these unique blends, it’s not so much about saying I want to do X career path and then sticking to the traditional route of what defines X, but instead trying to find ways to kind of gather their interest in a unique career path.

Rohin: 08:17 And so I think those are kind of ways that we are very purpose driven in that even if it isn’t immediately apparent where the purpose is going to lie in the kinds of work we’re going to do, we try to find ways to integrate our interests, integrate our other kind of hobbies and things that drive us into creating purpose for ourselves. And so something I recommended for workplaces but holds true for schools as well is trying to find a way to kind of facilitate this integration of ideas so that we feel truly motivated while we were.

Daniel: 08:48 Yeah. And so from a leadership point of view and for the ruckus maker listening, that stance you take as a leader demands flexibility, openness, strong communication, bringing Gen Z and others to the table to look at, and what I’m hearing you say Rohin is colliding unique ideas in things together that like you said, medicine and music, you might not necessarily see them as aligned but it provides a very interesting pathway that a Gen Zer would find meaningful through that work.

Rohin: 09:25 And the beauty of it is for each person it’s different. For one person it can mean music is medicine. For another person it can mean something else entirely. And that’s something that I just find really, really unique and interesting. And so for the ruckus makers, you’re having all these Gen Z teachers, counselors, and other faculty coming into the workplace. And a lot of them, got their certifications and all, but they also have these other interests in mind, ways that they want to maybe uniquely shape the classroom.

Rohin: 09:56 And so a lot of that boils down to then giving them the freedom and flexibility to experiment with all these other kinds of ideas and interests they have. And it could turn out to be pretty exciting for the future.

Daniel: 10:08 It makes it personalized and you keep coming back to this idea of unique and interesting and that’s exactly what we want to do with our students. So why not do that with our faculty members as well?

Rohin: 10:19 Exactly. And the beauty of this is now that these new faculty members are entering the workplace, they’re Gen Zers themselves, but they’re going to be teaching and working with other Gen Zers who are on the younger end of that spectrum. And so I find that dynamic really interesting because there’s this kind of alignment and overall values and kind of ambition. And so I think (a) that’ll help facilitate some of these conversations between students and faculty that’ll be much stronger than in the past. But (b) it’ll also help us help students kind of understand where the teachers are coming from and how to facilitate this kind of growth mindset. And so when I’m talking about purpose and all, I think it’ll help become a lot more individualized in that there will just be better communication all around in helping both students kind of achieve their goals both academically and in other ways, but also helping teachers kind of see that feedback loop and how the work they’re doing influences the students and how the students’ work is actually influencing them.

Daniel: 11:18 Right. I know we’ve touched on purpose driven and why that’s so important to Generation Z. Is there anything else characteristically that makes them tick or anything else you want to add in terms of what drives Gen Z.

Rohin: 11:36 So you’re seeing this really, really big push for mentorship and feedback and that’s always been present in past generations as well.

Rohin: 11:44 But what I found is for Gen Zers, that tends to be a priority over some other traditional needs and wants in the workplace. And so what that means is when you can talk about students or teachers in this respect but we’re all seeking mentor figures in our life. As I wrote this book, it was a huge mentorship program essentially that helped me get published. And that’s kind of what’s driving us today, we’re seeking mentor figures in our life. And so what that means is that there needs to be a kind of feedback loop that’s very, very direct and very, very apparent between new faculty, Gen Zers and potentially people who have been in the workplace for longer periods of time. This is all new and exciting and the world, it’s changing so, so quickly that without this kind of mentorship, it’s hard to keep up. And it just gives us a sense of not only security, but also personal growth when we’re able to learn from older people and see how that shapes our own work ethic and work. So that’s true for teachers as well as students themselves. And I think moving forward, that’s something I’m gonna recommend for schools to implement as some of these mentorship programs for students as well.

Daniel: 12:55 I’m going to anticipate that you’ll say that mentorship should be personalized and made to meet the needs of that individual. But I’m curious if there’s any sort of broad strokes that you could paint for the ruckus maker listening in terms of what effective mentorship could look like.

Rohin: 13:12 And so one thing I talk about is how the actual definition of mentorship is changing too. It’s becoming a lot more, there’s a lot of different paths within there. So something that’s really interesting is called reverse mentoring. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s where younger folks mentor older individuals and what that enables is greater ties to either the school or the company or things along that line. But it becomes a more loop driven thing. And that is not just one person from an older position talking to a younger worker and helps drive these kinds of conversations back and forth. And so I think it’s really important at schools because it helps drive effective communication, which is obviously really, really important in school systems. But it also helps senior management understand some of the trends that are shaping their student body.

Rohin: 14:04 There are all these new, either in social media or just in any other kind of social trends that are shaping students today. And so helping everyone understand what’s going on is really, really important. And then there’s also this idea of micro mentorship. When people think of mentorship, they usually think of one, or maybe two really influential people in someone’s life. Well, what your finding now is that people have dozens of little connections that they have where people give them tidbits of advice or helps them learn, Hey this is something that I thought you would find interesting. It could be an article or something. It’s something I deem micro mentorship and it’s this idea that rather than having these individual few connections, it’s about creating this web, this ecosystem of basically people helping each other out.

Daniel: 14:52 We’ve been talking Generation Z and what makes them tick and just touched on mentorship. Right now is a good spot to pause just for a message for our sponsors.

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Daniel: 15:28 Today’s podcast is sponsored by SaneBox. I’m a current subscriber to SaneBox and it is absolutely a tool that all school leaders cannot live without. Why do I love it? It just works. There is nothing to learn, nothing to install. And SaneBox works directly with every single email service out there. Imagine a world where only the important emails make it to your inbox. All the unimportant stuff is magically filtered out to folders that you can review later. That’s SaneBox’s artificial intelligence, working behind the scenes. It has saved me countless hours of filtering emails each week and it will do the same for you. If I could give you three or more extra hours each week, what would you be able to accomplish with that time? That’s what SaneBox does for me and it will do it for you. Start your free two-week trial and get a $25 credit by visiting sanebox.com/BLBS. That’s sanebox.com/BLBS.

Daniel: 16:36 You’re building a school from the ground up. I’m really interested in this Generation Z perspective and if you’re not limited by any resources, your only limitation is your imagination, how would you build your dream school and what would be your top three priorities?

Rohin: 16:50 That’s a really fun kind of thing to think about. Obviously if there are no bounds on resources, they’re the pretty obvious things, right? Like making it technologically advanced, providing good healthy food to everyone. Things along those lines. I think tying it back to mentorship, for instance, creating mentorship programs to help students and teachers alike. If we aren’t bound by resources, this can be really, really beneficial because I remember I went to a large public high school and there was only a handful of say counselors and other faculty for hundreds and thousands actually of students. And so this idea of mentorship wasn’t really strong. It was more about maybe you had a good connection with a teacher or something along those lines. Helping to facilitate a more robust mentorship program where feedback is continuous, from early on all the way to graduation can be really, really beneficial.

Rohin: 17:50 I want this to mean is just simply having more people on hand to help with this as well as providing, maybe going back to the social media idea, providing programs and initiatives to help you find ways to reach out and branch out to find this kind of mentorship and feedback. Maybe a student’s interested in some particular trade. How do you find people who are also interested in that trade to help guide you? And so creating these kinds of platforms and programs is really key. And then something I haven’t really touched upon, but that’s really, really important, is mental health in terms of Gen Z is the most anxious generation of the recorded generations in the past few. And that becomes really, really apparent in school. And doesn’t really go away once you enter college or any other kind of trade because we have all these pressures, especially academically to perform, but also socially in other ways.

Rohin: 18:44 And so in my personal opinion, schools aren’t doing enough to help us handle that mental anxiety and stress and other mental issues that may hinder us in the future. And so having really robust programs with trained professionals who understand where we’re coming from. This might also help if they’re Gen Zers themselves. It’s really, really apparent and people really focus on students, but it’s important to consider that teachers and other faculty who are entering the workplace may have the same kind of background and same afflictions, but are given even less attention. And so creating these types of programs where anyone can talk about some of the issues they’re facing without fear of repercussions is really, really important because it affects so many of us and it really becomes apparent in school when you’re talking with your peers or with others that people are stressed out, anxious things along those lines that I think we should be a lot more proactive about how we handle anxiety and other mental afflictions.

Rohin: 19:48 And then the last thing is I think having of course, given that there are no bounds having a really kind of unstructured period of time. Some people call it study hall and all, but at the same time really encouraging students to pursue personal products. At Duke there’s a fun thing where you can do independent research for course credit. And that’s something that I think is really cool and we should encourage in schools. What if someone was really, really passionate about creating an app for something, but they don’t have the time, due to the pressures of middle or high school or whatever? Having a period of time every day or maybe two times a week during the school day where they can pursue some of these side projects and not fear, Oh this is going to be graded on this rubric. Well just really being given the chance to explore some of these interests will help them feel a lot more confident in what they want to do. It’ll help them in college admissions because they’ll have more under their belt and help drive this purpose, Yes, this is really what I want to do because even for me personally, now in college I’m still not 100% sure where I want to go in life.

Rohin: 20:59 And so the earlier we do this and facilitate this, the better. This could mean anything. It could be artwork, painting, things along those lines. It can be music. The thing I’ve found is that a lot of these interests really don’t come to light until people enter college because now we have a little bit of the time and the resources to do so. And so helping us kind of find some of these extra things that we might otherwise put under the umbrella of free time is really, really key for the future. And I think something that schools should definitely emphasize.

Daniel: 21:28 Rohin, thank you so much for being a part of the Better Leaders Better Schools Podcast. Of all the things we talked about today, what’s the one thing you want a ruckus maker to remember?

Rohin: 21:38 The future of work is changing and that’s true for just about any kind of workplace. And so Gen Zers are entering the workplace in schools, but in other areas as well. Honestly wondering where is life going to take me? And so everything I’ve kind of said today, I’m hoping has kind of shaped this idea that mentorship and feedback is super important and this can be facilitated through a bunch of different mediums, whether that be through more indirect interaction from social media, through providing resources for mental health, through encouraging some of these side hustles, hobbies and ideas and basically just creating a place where people are free to explore and try new things. If we feel restricted by our jobs, we’re going to lose a lot of motivation, a lot of purpose. And so it’s about not just giving us a little more free reign to kind of explore, but also helping guide us towards some of these things that we find purposeful and ultimately that really means facilitating these conversations continuously and becoming mentors for generations in the future.

Daniel: 22:51 Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders Better Schools Podcast ruckus maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter @alienearbud. If the Better Leaders Better Schools Podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more ruckus makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode. Extra credit for tagging me on Twitter @alienearbud and using the #BLBS. Level up your leadership at betterleadersbetterschools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, class dismissed.




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