Generational Leadership: Generations at Work

What do a 55–year-old CEO, a 38–year-old manager, and a 22–year-old intern have in common? Definitely not their favorite music. Probably not their style of communication (email versus Twitter). Maybe their Starbucks habit.

The one thing these age groups absolutely have in common is that they’re all members of today’s workforce; many of them are working side-by-side in organizations across the country. Does the diversity of these generational groups really matter to the productivity and profitability of your particular business?   Yes! Generational leadership is a critical piece of organizational strategic planning for all leaders.

Each generational group brings its own unique cultural idiosyncrasies into your organization, impacting not only how they fulfill their roles and responsibilities, but also how they interact with one another and with your clientele. Here are some important characteristics you should put on your radar. This intelligence is good for your business!

  1. Baby Boomers (those born between 1946-1964): these post-WWII children grew up with a strong work ethic as well as a sense that they could “change the world.” As a result, they will gladly do whatever it takes to achieve—often working long hours, and even weekends, to surpass goals and accomplish objectives.
  1. Generation X (1965-1980): these children of Baby Boomers have compensated for their earnest, achievement-driven parents by seeking more personal and professional life balance. They also embraced the technological advances begun by Boomers, and they are still continuing to expand these IT skill sets into their lives and organizations. As Xers would say, this is the way they “roll.”
  1. Millennials (1981-2000): Our youngest members of the workforce have been raised in an environment of praise, acceptance, and life balance. This combination of cultural influences has allowed them to become some of the most open and tolerant employees. They are also great multi-taskers who embrace technology and adapt more easily to change.

In our book The Leading Edge (See Chapter 8, ‘Leading the Generations’), we point out how even these generational strengths can create conflict within your organization—as you have probably noted on numerous occasions. For instance, we’ve heard many executives (Boomers) complain about Gen X managers who won’t put in the long hours they’re used to because Xers want to rush off to their sons’ and daughters’ soccer matches or dance recitals. Both Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are critical of the Millennials in their organizations who expect lots of attention and praise—and possibly even a raise, even if they’ve only been in the company a few months!

Since these differences can either positively impact or distract a Corporate Family, exceptional leaders must be more aware of generational influences. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each generation, you can turn into a ‘Cultural Translator’ in your organization—thus harnessing the power of your Corporate Family members so they’ll truly become peak performers!