Leadership by a New Generation – Bridging the Age Gap

Did this happen to you?: the leader of your long-established team has retired, and his replacement is a young manager, straight out of business school.

He or She's anxious to get going in the organization, and you hope that he or she'll bring some new life and energy into the team.

As the weeks go by, however, you begin to see growing discomfort and conflict between the older staff and this new team member. Your older colleagues think "the new kid" is overconfident, pushy, and too anxious to leave at precisely 5:00 p.m. The newcomer finds it hard to get support from her older colleagues. He or She's concerned that they can't (or won't) multitask, they're less confident with technology, and they're unwilling to share their hard-earned knowledge. As a result, cooperation is suffering.

How can you bridge this generation gap? And why is this important?

There's little doubt that the U.S. workforce is at a unique point in history (other countries face similar situations). As "Baby Boomers" – people born between 1946 and 1964 – begin to retire, a new generation is stepping into their shoes.

Generation X, or Gen X (born between 1965 and 1976), and Generation Y, or Gen Y (also called "Millennials," born between 1977 and 1998), have values and work styles that are completely different from the baby boomers. Finding ways to bridge the gaps within this new multigenerational workforce takes great skill – and it all starts with understanding how new generation leaders think, and what's important to them.

In the U.S., the drop in birth rate in the post baby boom years means that, by 2010, the number of people in the 35-44 middle management age group had dropped by nearly 20 percent. Many other major economies worldwide are facing similar demographic changes. One practical consequence of these statistics is that organizations have to work much harder to attract and retain good people.

New generation leaders are a scarce commodity and should be nurtured as such.

Generations X and Y: What They Care About

The new generations of leaders often have a completely different way of working from their older counterparts. (Keep in mind that not everyone in these generations fits the characteristics we'll talk about: we're going to make some huge generalizations here, however, hopefully, these generalizations will be useful!)

For example, while boomers usually view long hours as evidence of loyalty and hard work, Gen X and Y tend to try to have more work/life balance. They've seen their parents' lack of quality of life, and the lack of loyalty companies showed to these hard-working parents in the 1990s, and they're not impressed.

They want flexible hours, more vacation time, continuous training, and telecommuting options. They expect to leverage technology to work efficiently, instead of staying late in the office to get everything done.

Boomers have traditionally felt that you have to "pay your dues" to your company – and if you hate your job, that's just part of life. Generations X and Y typically don't accept this; they want rewarding, intellectually stimulating work – and they don't want someone watching them too closely to check on their progress. These new groups are independent, creative, and forward thinking. They celebrate cultural diversity, technology, and feedback, and they prefer more of a "lattice" or individualized approach to management (as opposed to the traditional "corporate ladder").

The new generations also tend to like teamwork. Studies have shown that colleague relationships rank very high on Gen X and Y's list of priorities. Things like salary and prestige can often rank lower than boomers might expect or might want for themselves.

How are you dealing with changes in our organization and or teams? I would love to hear some of your stories. Send me your stories christian@christianjfischer.com.

Your coach

-Christian

 

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