Leveraging the Generation Differences in Leadership

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Today’s workplace comprises of three generations of leaders.

  • Baby Boomers (BB) – those born between the years 1945 – 1960
  • Generation X (GX) – those born between the years 1961 – 1981
  • Generation Y (GY) – those born between the years 1981 – 1994;         and we would soon see the coming in of the next group
  • Generation Z (GZ) – those born after 1994

Each generation comes to work with different needs. They have different views on how they should be treated, how they should be compensated, have different attitudes towards work, and have very different views on how they should be managed and led. Successful leaders have seen this and have not only adapted to embrace these differences but went on to leverage them.

It is critically important to get them to work together in a productive manner. A successful leader would need to focus on three very general aspects in particular.

  1. Communication
  2. Tech savvy
  3. Work-Life Balance

Communication styles and preferences are very different. Businesses recognize email as the most common and preferred way of communicating, while situations would prompt the need for telephone or audio / video conference or perhaps even face-to-face. BBs are usually more comfortable with face to face as they have gone through their years, participating in meetings. GX have grown up with voice mail and email and would often prefer this mode, as they would be comfortable with computers and smart phone devices. GY have grown up with technology all around them and would tend to prefer texting and social media. Often they do not differentiate between medium of communication whether work or personal. They perhaps would like to share their work ideas with colleagues too in this medium of communication.

While the message is the important part of communication, for it to be effective and well received, the choice of the medium by the leader may become the differentiating factor for success. If the recipient of the message is not engaged in the process, they are less likely to understand the message and respond with the required action. It would thus be smart for a leader to ask the team about how they would like to communicate and how they prefer to receive the information, and discuss how to build these preferences in the organization’s communication process.

 

Tech savvyis not the same as defined by these three generations. Today’s business needs effective use of technology as teams work together across geographic locations or even if they are working from the same site.

While GX and GY can be assumed to be more tech savvy than BBs, BBs are also upgrading their skills and integrating new technology in their work life, as they also believe that communication and tech savvy are interlinked.

Leaders could view differences in technology capability as an opportunity for training and development. Encourage the technology savvy GenY to teach or train the GenX and Boomer employees how to utilize software or other technology tools and techniques necessary to perform their roles.

 

Work-Life Balance has become a strong point of negotiation in the present day interviews, which gives us an insight that differing attitudes and expectations are prevalent across these three generations. BB grew up in an environment where loyalty and dedication was encouraged and rewarded. Being focused only on results, although beneficial to the organization overall is most likely to create conflict with GY employees. GY workers are more interested in work-life balance and will spend work time on their Facebook page, which is something BBs would probably only do at home and perhaps during weekends.

As a leader, if one could view this aspect of GY behavior, as a need to take a break from work, would probably be the way to go. The BBs and GX probably prefer coffee breaks instead. Integrating this need of GY like a break time would perhaps generate the desired outcome.

 

Tons of research show that each generation views work differently. Each generation has different things that motivate them. Even with differing communication styles, tools, and methods leveraging the diversity of these employee groups will increase productivity. Members of these generations will need to learn from each other and develop the capacity to accept various points of view. Bringing together these different generations has an additional benefit of establishing a “learning culture” in the organization, which lays the ground for ongoing growth and development.