Helena Zikova (Mercer Marsh Benefits) on new generation of leaders

09 March 2023 Consultancy.eu 5 min. read

A new generation of corporate leaders is on its way: Millennials and Gen Z. Generations that are sometimes portrayed as spoiled, activist, too perfectionistic and job hoppers with unrealistic expectations. Helena Zikova (Mercer Marsh Benefits) has risen to the top as a Millennial ‘Monster’ despite the many prejudices about her generation. In her book, she reflects on ‘Monsters’ climbing the corporate ladder.

Zikova joined Marsh McLennan in 2017 as Compliance Officer for Marsh Central and South Eastern Europe. She progressed to Senior Vice President and Sales Leader Europe for Mercer Marsh Benefits, the employee benefits division of Marsh McLennan.

In February 2023, she launched her first book: ‘Dear Monsters, Redefining New-Age Leadership for Millennials and Gen Zers’. In the book, Zikova takes her readers through four managers and fifteen lessons she has encountered in her working life.

Helena Zikova, Mercer

Too young for a leadership position

“I was 26 when I was invited through LinkedIn for an interview for a leadership position,” Zikova begins explaining why she wrote this book. “Apparently, I had the right qualifications, but when they heard how old I was, I was no longer suitable for the position.”

“I realized I was missing demonstrated leadership experience. And that I had to change something about the way I presented myself. During the Corona Pandemic I had more free time and decided to write a book. I thought back to this moment that was crucial for me; what would I have wanted to know about leadership then that I have learned over the last years?”

In Dear Monsters, Zikova looks back on her career so far and the people she's encountered. She describes four types of managers from her work past: the good boss, the bad boss, the boss lady and the big boss. “I have worked with many leaders across different countries. Based on recognizable stories from my time with those executives, I want to show how Millennials and Gen Z people can deal with challenges in the workplace.”

Lessons in the book include: keep on learning, be kind to yourself and get things done. Zikova also gives a lot of reading tips in her book. Zikova: “We all know that we should be humble and inclusive and that we should never stop learning. But as I was writing the book, I began to apply the principles even more myself. I saw that this helped me maximise my leadership journey and be officially recognized as a leader.”

Female leadership

Using the example of The Boss Lady, Zikova elaborates on female leadership. Because she sees that women and men are still treated unequally in the workplace and in leadership positions.

Zikova: “The perception of what a leader is or has to be is very much connected and linked to male attributes, both in organisations and in politics. It is therefore important to talk in organisations about the fact that leadership can and should also be kind and compassionate, open and humble. It is not always about that masculine, strong leadership.”

In her book, Zikova writes about visibility as a woman in a leadership position: “We women often think it is selfish to talk about our achievements. Women leaders have taught me that it is not about me. It is about showing others what I've done and motivating them to take steps too. It is our responsibility as women to work on our visibility and be a role model to others.”

Dear Monsters, Redefining New-Age Leadership for Millennials and Gen

Age diversity in the workplace

In recent years, many articles have been published about the characteristics of Millennials and Gen Z. With this book, Zikova does not try to avoid these characteristics, but rather to fit them into the existing rules of the organisations – which are often determined by older generations.

“Each generation has defining moments. Millennials – and to a lesser extent also Gen Z – saw, for example, how hard our parents worked and how the financial crisis caused our parents a great deal of stress. As a result, we attach more value to a healthy work-life balance and self-care. Other generations may find that spoiled and unrealistic, but I do not think that that is correct. Organisations must accept that the younger generations have different expectations.”

“The current generation of corporate leaders has taught me almost everything I know about leadership. But the higher you go in the hierarchy, the less feeling you have with the younger generation. Millennials and Gen Z make up a large part of the current workforce. People are getting older and are sticking around in the workforce for a lot longer than originally planned, which means that the age differences between employees are even bigger.”

“Let’s make sure that there is also diversity in age, as well as in gender in our teams, so that we continue to understand each other.”

A difference between generations can also be seen in how young employees are looking for purpose within their job. Most Millennials and Gen Z'ers want to contribute to society. They are often a lot more activist than older generations and also take these aspirations into account when choosing their job.

“Many organisations are asking the question: how do we help young people to connect that feeling of wanting to contribute to the world with their work within the organisation? Your life purpose and your work should not be two separate things. Combining the two is also better for the mental health of younger colleagues.”

Being a good leader takes time

With Dear Monsters, Zikova wants to pass on her experiences to the next generation. “Starters in the labor market must realise that it is a long journey; you are not suddenly in a leadership position, it takes time Being a good manager is not something you can order online and receive within two business days. Leadership is something you build over the years. Hopefully, this book will help Millennials and Gen Z along the way.”