What Does Gen Y and Obama’s Inaugural Speech Have in Common?

Posted by

What does Gen Y and Obama’s upcoming inaugural speech have in common? Gen Y Jon “Favs” Favreau, Obama’s chief speechwriter. 27-year old Favs shared a house with 6 roommates in Chicago a few months ago; soon he’ll be working at the White House and living in a Dupont Circle condo. How did Obama and Favs create this synergy to write the most anticipated speech in history? And what can business managers learn from this collaboration between Gen Y and the president-elect?

Set Clear Expectations
According to the Washington Post, Obama meets with Favs for an hour to outline his ideas and expectations for every speech. Favs then drafts his ideas; Obama later edits the speech. They then work on the final version together.

Although Gen Y employees value connection and communication, they do not value micro management. A Gen Y “dream boss”  would outline the big picture of the project and then leave the Gen Y employee alone to do his job, with the understanding that they will have regular meetings about the project. This gives the Gen Y employee the freedom, connection and communication he craves.

A Gen Y “loser boss” would assign a project without the big picture, and then constantly micro manage the project. This not only wastes the boss’ time, but it also disempowers the Gen Y employee. How do you rank on managing your Gen Y employees?

Accept Limitations
Favs and his team have to transition from all-night speech writing with pizza and Red Bull, to working with a much larger team in the White House. This is a big leap for a 27-year old; as he says “My biggest strength isn’t the organization thing.” So other speechwriters have volunteered to work with him to train the new hires.

Being a strong leader means focusing on the strengths and minimizing the weaknesses in each employee. Notice that Obama didn’t say, “Well, you’re a good speechwriter and now you need to be a good manager too”. Instead he let Favs focus on what he does best, while others supported Favs in what he does not do best…the “organization thing”. Does this mean that your Gen Y employees can do what they want and forget the mundane tasks? No. But it does mean that as a leader you accept your employee’s  limitations within reason, and then work with that employee to improve her weaknesses.

State the Facts
Favs drafted the Democratic National Convention speech but Obama thought it lacked direction, so he re-wrote it. They then worked together on Obama’s version of the speech for 3 days.

Many managers are tip-toeing around Gen Y employees. This does a disservice to the employee, as well as the manager. Gen Y values direct feedback; they respect managers who give them the straight facts. So don’t be afraid to say, “This isn’t working” like Obama did to Favs. Then work with the Gen Y employee and show him what you’re looking for, so he has a clear idea of what’s expected. Otherwise, you’ll end up doing more work yourself and the Gen Y employee will end up dissatisfied and unmotivated.

Respect Working Differences
Apparently Favs likes to literally move around when working, to prevent his writing from getting stale. He’ll often write on his laptop at a Starbucks, in his condo, at the office, and in another Starbucks, all in one day. This may seem odd to a Baby Boomer, but it’s normal for Gen Y.

Did Obama say, “Do it my way. Work in the office for 8 hours straight.”? No, he understood that Gen Y likes to move when working, so he let Favs work in his own way. He didn’t place restrictions on Favs; he just insisted that the job get done well.

So should you let your Gen Y employee work like Favs? Not necessarily. But remember that the results are as important as the process. So if your Gen Y employee takes more frequent breaks than you, or works different hours than you, don’t panic. Just insist that the results happen on time and respect your working differences.

Let Gen Y Be Gen Y
When Favs is exhausted he reportedly does what any 27-year old would do: send prank emails, dance and play video games into the morning. He posed with a cutout of Hillary Clinton, which then got posted on Facebook. The reporters found it and started questioning his maturity level. This could have created a huge political scene, but Obama let it go. Why? I don’t know for sure, but any good leader knows to let Gen Y be Gen Y.  Give them some space and let them have fun.

What does this mean for you? Make the cafeteria fun with games and music, create office contests with video games and offer collaborative incentives. Gen Y likes to have fun; as long as they get the job done, then let the fun begin!

These are just five tips for working with Gen Y. Try adopting one tip for a week and see what happens. You won’t be getting a call to join the White House, but you will get the best out of your Gen Y employee!

Get Monthly Leadership Tips from Anne Loehr
Is your leadership ready for the future workplace? 

Leave a Reply