Career and Jobs

3 Ways Gen Z Leaders Are Reviving The Revolutionary Energy Of The Sixties

“Regardless of who wins at the top, we the people on the ground will need to keep causing ‘good trouble,’ as the late John Lewis coined.”—MILCK, singer-songwriter

Members of Generation Z have only recently come of age, but they’re already leaving a lasting impact on our culture. Some of the most inspiring figures from the last decade have been leaders like Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai and the Parkland students—all leading revolutions for massive social change. The energy they’re bringing—and strategies they’re choosing—hearken back to the revolutions of the 60s.

What does this say about the Gen Z leadership style? Corey Andrew Powell, marketing content manager at The National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS), has spent his entire career analyzing media and now works directly with the future leaders of the world. “In many ways, the entire world is stacked against Gen Z, so avoiding resistance and activism is almost not an option,” he told me. “Without fighting back, members of Gen Z may not even be able to have a stable adulthood, let alone a chance to pursue careers, dreams or other lifestyles that previous generations took for granted. There is a sense that Gen Z needs to take action and do something before time runs out. This trait, combined with being deeply passionate about modern social issues, is fanning the flames of revolutionary energy.”

Based on Powell’s observations of these bright young activists, here are three things he sees as so unique about Gen Z leadership:

  1. “They embrace the power of storytelling. In the 1960s, Jane Fonda and members of the antiwar movement raised awareness for their cause by highlighting the human impact of war—on the young people whose lives were disrupted by the draft, as well as civilians in Vietnam killed in conflict. When the Parkland school shooting happened, a group of survivors turned activists quickly transformed the tragedy into a national movement with a similar storytelling strategy. Storytelling has the power to build empathy and inspire action—and that’s exactly what they accomplished by telling the world of their classmates’ and teachers’ heroism during the shooting. Students across the nation saw themselves in the victims, and parents saw their children— persuading people of all ages and walks of life to lend their support in demanding change.”
  2. “They lead from the front lines. Among older generations, leadership is often defined by hierarchy. Gen Z leaders directly involve themselves in the action, working in the trenches alongside everyone else in their movement or organization—similar to the flat hierarchies of civil rights groups. Proximity to the front line also keeps them informed about their impact, so they can quickly innovate on the fly to adopt better strategies or make better decisions.”
  3. “They align with justice at the expense of personal gain. Older generations of leaders have been notoriously security focused, prioritizing their own individual advancement so they can have influence within a hierarchy. So far, Gen Z leadership has been defined by great personal sacrifice in order to do what’s right—even in the face of violence. Education activist Malala Yousafzai overcame enormous and devastating responses to her campaign for women’s education not unlike the civil rights movement of the ‘60s, including leaders who withstood their position in the face of campaigns of terror and violence like future Rep. John Lewis did during that era.”

“Powell says that social media has completely transformed the way young activists organize, how they spread their messages and how they recruit. “In the past, college campuses were hotbeds of activism, with people raising awareness through aggressive flyering, sit-ins and large-scale protests and demonstrations,” he notes. “Now, with platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat, Gen Z can curate massive audiences without any limits to geography or support. Even people who aren’t activists can remain deeply informed about revolutionary ideas, which in turn can influence their aspirations, the kinds of jobs they take or companies they work for, and their social circles.”

Case in Point. I had an opportunity also to sit down with singer-songwriter Connie K. Lim, professionally known as MILCK (her name spelled backwards), who has a new documentary short called I Can’t Keep Quiet. For many workers, the pandemic put a focus on the fragility of life, leading them to reevaluate how they want to live their lives, and MILCK was no exception. During the quarantine in the moments of quiet, she pondered that question and started to understand her role in the oppression of people. As a daughter of immigrants, she was taught to climb the ladder faster, better, more efficiently and intelligently to earn a seat at the table. “I had to work three times harder than everyone else,” she told me. “And that ambition—that’s still within me—had me climbing ladders that continued to reinforce oppressive structures for people of color.”

Although not a Gen Z’er, MILCK is nevertheless a revolutionary, asking the kinds of questions business leaders have failed to ask in order to retain their best and brightest employees from the mass exodus that led to the hiring crisis. She wondered how she could shift the rigid corporate structure and create something that opens up curiosity, imagination and exploration. “The industry model is to create the music, do the corporate structure and then trickle down to causes with the priority on streaming numbers,” she said. “I wondered what if I follow what I want to do and flip the structure upside down and put advocacy work at the top. Then I can design my work and projects around that to tell the story, bring attention to these things and really hold that to my heart.”

As a result of her soul searching, MILCK took the risk of leaving a major record label to work independently. Now the singer’s projects aim to change the typical ways of the music industry, shifting her focus and rebuilding her team to ensure that the artists she works with are creating music with a purpose and all parties involved are properly represented and compensated. Atlantic Records wanted her to create songs first, then find philanthropic ties for the music afterwards. With MILCK’s current approach, she’s crafting the music with intent, focusing on the goal first and foremost.

“Gen Z has grown up on mass media and narrative more than any other generation before.” Powell observes. “Not only do they have all of the tools needed to be their own media outlets, but they also have the innate savvy and know-how to be master storytellers, because storytelling and narrative is part of their DNA—it’s like the air they breathe. In the 1960s, people relied on the nightly news to learn about the anti-war movement and what happened at Kent State. Now, people on the ground can document and distribute their own experiences in real time, without censorship or whitewashing from the media. The revolution is literally not being televised.”

MILCK will appear at Resiliency 2023 on September 8, 2023. Registration is free at:

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