Lonnie Ledbetter understands how to keep the next generation fulfilled in the workplace.

By Brena Ullrich, Photo courtesy of American Campus Communities

Lonnie Ledbetter knows a little bit about people. In fact, she’s quite the people person. As the chief purpose and inclusion officer for American Campus Communities (ACC), Ledbetter handles “all things people related.” She began her career at ACC as a resident assistant at the University of Texas at Austin, working her way through every level of student housing. She started in operations, then training, then took over the umbrella of human resources. In addition to HR, she now provides strategic oversight and direction for the company’s organizational structure, culture, training task force, all diversity and inclusion initiatives and more. Ledbetter was recently recognized as an honoree for Austin Business Journal’s 2022 Women in Business award.

As a leader in the country’s largest manager of student housing, Ledbetter knows Gen Z better than most. Since Gen Z makes up the majority of ACC’s clientele and many of its employees, she is able to see and understand them on a deeper level. It’s no secret that Gen Z is quite different from previous generations with respect to the workforce. They are 32% more likely to leave their employers than millennials and about twice as likely than Gen Xers.

Anyone can see that workplace expectations are shifting, and Ledbetter has a front row seat. From her experience in culture and inclusion, she has learned what it takes to create a workplace environment that nurtures compassion, evolution and empowerment. Focusing on the details of workplace culture allows her to create the larger picture she, and many others, strive for. She’s passionate about what she does and extends some of her wisdom to us on how to keep Gen Z supported and fulfilled in the workplace.

Be empathetic.

We all know the saying: You haven’t walked a mile in their shoes. It’s a cliche that couldn’t be truer, especially when it comes to the workplace. Everybody has their own journey that they’re going through. You may not have lived through what they have, or gone through what they have, but you can be empathetic. You can work through ways to make sure you are supporting their journey to make them successful in their role. Prioritize making and maximizing connections with people to better understand the place each individual is coming from.


Embrace conscious and intentional leadership.

In our daily lives, it’s easy to sit back and cruise with life on autopilot. While this may be the more comfortable way to go about things, it can endanger the culture of any environment. It’s important to pause and refocus specific goals and outcomes when things start to become routine. You must be really intentional, especially during one-on-ones, about what you want outcomes to be so that every action you do is leading you, and others, toward the goal you want to manage. People need to be heard, so listen actively while being mindful of the larger context of each objective. People are no longer satisfied with going through the motions, so it’s more important than ever to intentionally define specific goals.

Celebrate diversity.

There’s a whole world out there seeing things in a different way than you. Embrace the challenge of different ways of thinking and never get too comfortable with one perspective on things. With Gen Z on track to be the most diverse yet, welcoming and celebrating diversity has never been more crucial. You won’t have the desired growth and development if you only listen to one type of thought. If you can get that input from diverse groups of people, then collectively you can build the blocks to step up together. Resist outside thoughts that chip away at your foundation to ensure that you grow the way you want.

Foster self-empowerment within teamwork.

When it comes to the workplace, there definitely is an “I” in team. Understanding who is on your team and how they work best is essential. Pay attention to the little things. After all, “The love is in the details.” People will be who they are, and understanding the individual brings you one step close to a collaborative team. You must create an environment where people feel safe enough to go beyond their boundaries and supported enough to continue growing if they misstep. Be willing to foster collaborative conversation, and as a leader, be open to hearing feedback.


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