It is a privilege and a challenge to lead in today’s four-generation workforce.
The Traditionalists (B. 1925-42) remind us of loyalty and work ethic. They embody values of honour, compliance, discipline and sacrifice as the natural order of life. Baby Boomers (B. 1943-1960) were raised in the era of progress. They shift focus from sacrifice to challenge, unflinchingly questioning the status quo. They value ambition, teamwork and are self-confessed workaholics. GenX (B. 1961-1981) lived in the age of dual career households, they value work-life balance, seeking time to pursue outside interests. They favour balance, independence and self-reliance. Millenials/GenY (B. 1982+) are the plugged-in generation; blogging, emailing and texting are as natural as breathing. They value achievement, competition, diversity and radical innovation.
By considering the DNA and differences between generations, we learn to appreciate the values and attitudes that make the differences matter.
Acknowledging differences creates appreciation and diffuses any underlying tensions.
As generations come together, differing ways of working naturally arise. Traditionalists value order and discipline while remaining generations have progressively less patience for command and control. Through declaring differences and aligning a collaborative approach, each generation’s way of working is heard, acknowledged, aligned and integrated.
Early alignment on the language and the meaning of organizational values clarifies any inherent generational differences. Collaboration is highlighted as an example.
For Traditionalists and early Baby Boomers who lived through World Wars, collaboration is akin to complying with the enemy. Yet, Late Boomers, GenX and Millennials witnessed collaboration as a means to global advances in technology, business and science. With alignment on meaning, teams more readily embrace and embody organizational values.
Being curious is a powerful and simple strategy to bridging differences.
It is natural to be guarded when differences arise. Being curious allows leaders and teams to shift perspective towards experiencing differences as a means to expand knowledge and understanding. Traditionalists & Boomer’s bring forth vital experiences more readily when approached with curiousity. GenX’ers and Millennials’s are openly curious and inquisitive.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Traditionalists bring rigour and honour. Boomers bring resiliency while the GenX’ers work smarter. Millennials remind us to get back to purpose by asking ‘Why?’ often and when it is most needed. Each generation’s diverse strengths and ability to adapt enhances the entire team’s capacity to grow during rapidly changing times.
Clarify established business process approaches in advance.
Traditionalists approach established processes with respect and obligation while Baby Boomers first challenge the process, seeking understanding. GenX’ers and Millennials also expect to influence the terms and conditions of the job. Across the generations, it is important to clarify processes and expectations to build trust, influence and confidence.
Challenge is healthy.
Baby Boomers and Millennials challenge the status quo often, for the sake of learning and growing. They thrive within a competitive environment. The Traditionalists adapt well when they understand the logic and structure underpinning the challenge. While GenX express skepticism at first, they are eager to learn and innovate.
Relating is not a soft skill, it is a leadership competency relevant across the generations.
Relating by caring, mentoring and collaborating is about bringing out the best in teams while maintaining a challenging, not compliant, work environment. Traditionalists relate through respect, honour and loyalty. Baby Boomers relate through teamwork and innovation. GenX and Millennials especially thrive in challenging and innovative environments supplemented with strong support.
Change transitions can be chaotic for workplaces with all four generations, and that’s ok!
Change and the ensuing “chaos” is a signal that radical transformation is necessary for team evolution. Each generation’s approach to change illuminates mobilizes and/or supports the collective. Traditionalists remind of heritage and work ethic, the remaining generations successively bring healthy challenge, collaboration and innovation to mobilize sustainable change initiatives.
Leading teams rather than managing teams shifts focus from controlling to fostering change leaders.
Command and control leadership is a style of the past. The literal meaning of ‘managing’ shows words like controlling, surviving and making do. In today’s highly competitive world, sustainable growth is witnessed more through discarding control in favour of fostering change leadership through channeling the best of the generational differences.
Consider the personalities and the differences in the generations.
Stereotypes are dangerous. Not all Traditionalists are tech-phobic or GenX’ers workaholics. It is typical of their generation. Yet personality differences, cultural influences and variations in upbringing supersede generational stereotypes. Getting to know your team’s personality traits in concert with generational nuances depicts a more distinctive portrait of the team.
Lucy Shenouda, CPCC, ORSCC, ACC
LeadingChangeSpecialists (LCS) & FosterEssence Inc. (FE)
Founding Partner (LCS), Founder (FE), Leadership Coach