Use Mentorship to Create a Leadership Pipeline
Build a strong foundation for the youngest members of the American workforce
By Stephanie Weyrauch, PT, DPT
The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Combined Sections Meeting in 2013 ignited my passion for serving my profession.
It was my first professional conference. I walked into the massive exhibit hall and felt overwhelmed by the volume of vendors and people. “Pretty amazing, isn’t it?” I turned around and saw a familiar face — one of my mentors, on his way to the exhibits.
“Where do I even start?” I said.
“Well, what interests you?” he said.
We stood at the entrance for at least an hour trying to answer this question. My mentor showed remarkable patience as I explained my visions of my career and the profession. His perpetual attention and inquisitiveness (whether authentic or feigned) and willingness to let me explore out loud got my mind vibrating with thoughts of physical therapy.
I now realize this act by my mentor — fundamentally an act of kindness — is one we can all make when we find ourselves in similar positions with our physical therapist peers. Deep down, I hope this hour was as well spent and igniting for my mentor as it was for me. Years of experience later, these discussions still never fail to get my brain buzzing, whether I’m mostly the listener or mostly the talker. And, importantly, especially when engaged with our most fledgling colleagues, giving of ourselves as my mentor did may be the spark that ignites someone else’s developmental journey through this wonderful profession we have built.
What might we come to encounter in these conversations amid the rapid changes facing the healthcare industry? I’d like to touch on some self-described characteristics of the youngest members of the physical therapy workforce and ways to ignite their passion.
MILLENNIALS AND GEN Z
The two youngest generations currently in the workforce are millennials (born 1980-1994) and Gen Z (born 1995-2010). Millennials have overtaken baby boomers as the largest generation in the United States and by 2025 will represent 75% of the global workforce.1 Gen Z — the generation following millennials — constitutes over 25% of the world’s current population and is just starting to enter the workforce.2
Both groups feel ethical leadership and hands-on mentoring are important for their work life. They are purpose-driven and committed to making a broad social impact. Neither generation will hesitate to leave careers and companies that don’t align with their social or moral values. Gen Z is the most diverse generation — 48% are people of color — contributing to their strong focus on diversity and representation within organizations. While both generations value flexibility and adaptability in the workplace, Gen Z ranks these as top factors when considering a job.1-3
5 STEPS TO IGNITE YOUR ORGANIZATION’S LEADERSHIP PIPELINE
Get to know young leaders
Unlike previous generations, millennials and Gen Z are loyal to people and purpose, not to companies and organizations. They crave connection and will work hard for people they respect and who share their values. Employers and senior staff should prioritize learning about the young leaders within their organization both personally and professionally. If managing a team, take time to get to know each team member outside of the workplace. Connect with students or new graduates from an alumni association or state professional association in person or virtually, while actively listening and showing curiosity toward their personal and professional lives.
Understand their motivations and skills
Getting to know team members and young leaders within an organization helps employers identify skill sets and motivations more accurately. Because these generations are purpose-driven, senior leadership should support work that feeds their desire to make a difference. For example, my employer has supported me in hosting legislative days for our community. We invite local lawmakers into our facility, allowing them to interact with patients while discussing current bills that would benefit the patients. I feel these legislative days showcase my (self-perceived) skills in public speaking, organization, relationship building, and patient advocacy while serving my community and helping my patients connect with lawmakers. These events have given me more freedom to attend advocacy events, professional conferences, and donor banquets — thereby increasing my job satisfaction and personal happiness.
Discuss their dreams
Leaders can learn a great deal by talking to team members about their aspirations. How far into the future are they thinking? Do they have a path they plan to follow? The answers to these and similar questions provide an opportunity to foster career and leadership development plans. Employers can synthesize this information to cultivate the organization’s leadership pipeline. Strategies that fit with millennial and Gen Z characteristics include increasing their leadership responsibilities, identifying roles that match their strengths, and employing people with diverse backgrounds to enhance employee inclusion and inspire the kinds of novel solutions made possible by cross-pollination between those of different skill sets and upbringings.
Expand their network
Mentorship is important for millennials and Gen Z. Once you understand their motivations and aspirations, connect them to people who can help actualize their talents and dreams. To ignite these new relationships, take younger employees to important meetings or conferences, formally introduce them to potential mentors, and enthusiastically describe their achievements and skills. Both generations consider technology an important networking resource and would likely be receptive to virtual introductions via email, social media, or video.
Help them get involved
Once all this information is woven together, organizational leadership must provide resources for young leaders to practice their “why.” This can include paying dues for a membership to professional associations, allowing them to attend events aimed at advancing their clinical and leadership skills, permitting them to observe meetings with upper management, or granting flexibility so they can perform community service.
By keeping these characteristics in mind, leaders can examine company culture for areas that can be used to help build a leadership pipeline.
Strong leadership pipelines are not built overnight. It can take years for the foundation to set and the proper systems to be in place for operations to run smoothly. But organizations can adapt to both new challenges and new opportunities faster if they have a plan that ignites passion in the youngest generations in the workforce.
1TeamStage. “Millennials in the Workplace Statistics: Generational Disparities in 2022.” https://bit.ly/3OktAgn Accessed March 20, 2022.
2Mawhinney T, Betts K. “Understanding Generation Z in the Workplace: New Employee Engagement Tactics for Changing Demographics.” Deloitte Blog. https://bit.ly/3OeS0aX. Accessed March 20, 2022.
3Evans-Reber K. “How to Meet Gen Z’s Workplace Expectations.” Forbes. https://bit.ly/3OiP4di. Accessed March 20, 2022
Stephanie Weyrauch, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist at Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Centers in Orange, CT. She is a member of the APTA Nominating Committee and can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @TheSteph21.