Leading across generations in today’s diverse five-generation workforce is a privilege. With expansive opportunities and challenges as multi-coloured as the generations themselves, we have much to explore and learn. We’ll explore the differences that shape each generation, influenced by formative historical, social and economic milestones. Each consideration builds on the one that follows. Ultimately, the overarching consideration is to be mindful of the nuances in the everyday person’s life events that depict even deeper meaning to further underpin motivations, barriers and life choices. So let’s begin.
The Traditionalists (b. 1928-1945), aka The Silent Generation, 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. 1946-1964) 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. 1965-1980) 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. 1981-1996) are the plugged-in generation; blogging, emailing and texting are as natural as breathing. They value achievement, competition, diversity and radical innovation.
GenZ (b. 1997 – 2012) are the digital natives; flexibility, self-reliance and personal freedom comprise their work ethic. They value uniqueness, authenticity, creativity and shareability. This generation is the most diverse of all.
By considering the DNA and differences between generations, we learn to appreciate the values and attitudes that make the differences matter.*Age ranges indicated are estimates based on various global research and academic sources
Top 10 Considerations for Leading Across Generations
Acknowledging differences in how collaboration is perceived generationally creates appreciation and diffuses any underlying tensions.
As generations come together, differing ways of working naturally arise. Traditionalists value order and discipline, deferring to authority. Remaining generations have progressively less patience for command and control authoritative styles. Through declaring differences and aligning a cooperative 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-Z’ers 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 Millenials’s are openly curious and inquisitive. GenZ’ers value uniqueness and authenticity in their interactions, preferring social media as a mode of communication, expressing curiousity in more indirect ways than any other generation.
The whole IS greater than the sum of its parts.
Traditionalists have rigour and honour. Boomers bring resiliency while the GenX’ers work smarter. Millenials remind us to get back to purpose by asking ‘Why?’ often and when it is most needed. GenZ’ers value authenticity and creativity, bridging diversity through their ability to offer flexibility and self-reliance. 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 Millenials also expect to influence the terms and conditions of the job. GenZ’ers are flexible and self-reliant, valuing bite-sized and real-time feedback to get the job done. Across the generations, it is important to clarify processes and expectations to build trust, influence and confidence.
Challenge is healthy.
Baby Boomers and Millenials 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 at first GenX’ers express skepticism, they are eager to learn and innovate. GenY’ers value self-direction to deal with challenges while GenZ’ers value self-reliance and immediate feedback to support their ability to rise to a challenge.
Relating is not a soft skill, it is a leadership imperative relevant across the generations.
Relating through listening to each voice in the conversation while responding with integrity, brings out the best in teams. Traditionalists relate through respect, honour and loyalty. Baby Boomers relate through teamwork and innovation. GenX and Millenials especially thrive in challenging and innovative environments supplemented with strong support. GenZ’ers are stereotyped as constantly connected, with hand-held devices their conduit to relationship. That said, GenZ core values of creativity and shareability open the door to being connected in more diverse ways.
Changes that lead to a challenging transition can be chaotic for workplaces with all five 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 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 and managing teams shifts focus from solely controlling to realizing the value of fostering people to self-selected as leaders in their own right, regardless of title or designation.
Command and control leadership is a style of the past. The most literal meaning of ‘managing’ shows words like controlling, surviving and making do. In today’s highly competitive world, sustainable growth is witnessed more through leveraging both managing and leading. That said, forsaking control in favour of fostering self-selected leadership channels 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 Baby Boomers workaholics. It is typical of their generation. Yet personality differences, cultural influences and variations in upbringing supersede generational stereotypes. Getting to know your team members’ character traits in concert with generational nuances depicts a more distinctive portrait of the team.
Leading across generations is more than a privilege, it is an imperative to realizing big opportunities. Understanding the values, attitudes and characteristics of individuals, teams, organizations and communities unlocks the greatest potential in leading across generations.
What’s important to you about leading across the generations?