Debora Dragseth, Ph.D., is the Baker Boy Professor of Leadership at Dickinson State University. Her monthly column in the Heart River Voice offers practical solutions to common workplace issues. 

Several months ago, I wrote a column delving into Generation Z (born 1997-2012) as they move from the educational setting to full-time careers. With the first Gen Z cohorts graduating from college around 2018, they now find themselves entering a workplace where their bosses represent a mix of Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers.  

As a college professor, my position allows me to closely interact with hundreds Gen Z students every year, offering me a window into this new wave of professionals. Gen Z is creative, risk-taking, enthusiastic, entrepreneurial, and adept at team working and multitasking.

My students tell me that their relationship with their boss is imperative to their job satisfaction. It is often said that people don’t leave jobs; they leave bosses. In an environment of low unemployment and increasing turnover rates, it is critical that organizations understand and adapt to the leadership preferences of Gen Z employees to create a productive work environment.

To provide employers with more insight into building a more connected, productive, and motivated workforce, I decided to take a look at what my Gen Z students truly value in their leaders. To compile a comprehensive list of positive traits, I reviewed research from institutions such as Deloitte, the Journal of Management Studies, the Sloan Management Review, and the National Institute of Health. I synthesized a list of 12 attributes that my students could consider:

  • Accountability
  • Communication
  • Courage
  • Empathy
  • Flexibility
  • Humility
  • Integrity
  • Patience
  • Passion
  • Positivity
  • Transparency
  • Vision

Among these traits, communication stood out as the undisputed champion, resonating with almost every Gen Z student in my classes. Communication topped their list of essential leadership qualities. Following closely were accountability as the second most valued trait, with integrity, positivity, and patience rounding out the top five.

Students also emphasized the importance of leaders who are fair, trustworthy, creative, and continuous learners.

Leaders who exhibit these qualities will have an advantage in attracting and retaining Gen Z talent as they build a harmonious workplace in which every generation can thrive.

To view this column online (p. 12), please click here.