Leading Across the Divide: Generational Perspectives of Effective Leadership
What does effective leadership look like to you?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Leadership is a highly personal practice, and our opinions on what makes it effective are likely to be equally as personal. As our workforce has become more diverse, this has become more apparent than ever before. Having recognized this, our latest blog series, Leading Across the Divide, aims to understand how perceptions of effective leadership change across generations, cultures, and diverse corporate structures. It also equips leaders with practitioner-centered strategies for navigating these complexities.
This post is the first in the series, focusing on how to effectively lead a multi-generational workforce.
Leading a Multi-Generational Workforce
Most people, regardless of generation, want similar things out of work—meaning, purpose, progress, and effective leadership, to name a few. However, many people have differing perspectives about how each of these things should be accomplished. This is where generational divides come into play. Each generation has different beliefs concerning things like meaning-making at work, promotions, work-life balance, and especially, effective leadership.
Therefore, it’s important for leaders to understand not only the different generations present in our workforce, but also how each one defines effective leadership. Let’s take a closer look at these generations and their understanding of what it means to be an effective leader:
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
Baby Boomers value work ethic, drive, and loyalty in the workplace. They tend to be diligent and focused on the job. They favor stable working environments, so they generally don’t like change (1). Baby Boomers are characterized by a high degree of acceptance and respect for a well-defined chain of command, but they are also known to work well in teams (2). They value respect for achievements, and they enjoy knowing that they are working to advance organizational objectives.
Practitioner’s Strategies for Leading Baby Boomers:
- Publicly recognizing Baby Boomers’ achievements in the workplace can go a long way. This can be done through something as simple as giving a personal shout-out in a status-update email or in a team meeting.
- Given Baby Boomers’ emphasis on work ethic and drive, it’s important for leaders to provide constructive feedback. Boomers tend to prefer annual or bi-annual performance reviews, during which their supervisors clearly articulate areas of strength and opportunities for improvement.
Generation X (born 1965-1980)
When compared to Baby Boomers, Gen Xers tend to be more individually motivated and self-reliant. They’re generally unimpressed by authority and achievement, and they value being fair, competent, and honest (3). They place a high premium on personal satisfaction, they prefer to work alone, and they value extreme individuality and personal challenge in the workplace.
Practitioner’s Strategies for Leading Gen Xers:
- Individuality and personal growth are incredibly important to Gen Xers. Leaders should work to get to know what motivates each Gen Xer on a personal level and work to tie organizational goals and job functions to intrinsic rewards.
- Gen Xers love being personally empowered. Leaders can give GenXers step-up projects and professional development opportunities, in order to give them more autonomy and opportunity in the workplace.
Millennials (born 1981-1995)
Like Baby Boomers, many Millennials enjoy receiving recognition for their achievements (4). They also value feedback and honesty, like Gen Xers. What makes this generation unique is their dislike for rigid hierarchical structures. Millennials tend to enjoy working in open environments with free-flowing information, and they enjoy receiving continuous and instant feedback on their performance. They’re often very opinionated, and they enjoy working in teams.
Practitioner’s Strategies for Leading Millennials:
- Millennials hate rigid hierarchical structures. Leaders should implement cross-functional training and teamwork to help them develop skills across a variety of positions. The flexibility and variety of development will help counteract hierarchical rigidity.
- Setting up monthly performance reviews will also serve leaders well when working with Millennials. By implementing more recurring feedback, Millennials will enjoy increased access to information about their performance.
Generation Z (born 1996-2020)
The youngest generation, Gen Z, is tech savvy and digitally connected to the world around them. This generation takes in vast amounts of information from online and uses to clarify individual values and goals. Gen Zers enjoy receiving constant, instant feedback, and they like working in teams. They value inclusivity, social justice, self-motivation, and personal development (5).
Practitioner’s Strategies for Gen Zers:
- Given Gen Z’s preference for constant, instant feedback, leaders should implement weekly check-ins that allow people to keep up to date with the ongoing progress and performance of projects/tasks. Leaders can even leverage this generation’s tech savviness by utilizing shared online dashboards to monitor performance and progress.
- Generation Z values inclusivity in the workplace, and they appreciate knowing that everyone’s voices are heard. To account for this, leaders can implement cross-functional problem-solving teams and gather input from a variety of people when addressing issues in the workplace.
Leading Across the Divide:
When thinking and accounting for leadership in a diverse workforce and business environment, it’s important to understand how generational differences affect how people think about effective leadership. By taking time to learn more about each generation’s characteristics and preferences, leaders can tailor their approach accordingly. They can work to ensure that they are leading across the generational divide.
For more information about effective leadership, check out The Perfect Recipe for Impactful Leadership to learn more about the best leadership styles for your organization. varying leadership styles and which is best for your organization.
(1) Loomis, J.E. (2000). GENERATION X, Rough Notes Co. Indianapolis.
(2) Jadhav, S. (2019, August 14). Leading Across the Generations – The Best Leadership Style for Each. Retrieved July 31, 2020, from https://www.chieflearningofficer.com/2018/05/17/leading-across-generations/
(3) Al-Asfour, A., & Lettau, L. (2014). Strategies for Leadership Styles for Multi-Generational Workforce. Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics, 11(2), 58.
(4) Patel, D. (2017, August 30). The Top 5 Traits Gen Z Looks For In Leaders. Retrieved July 31, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/deeppatel/2017/08/27/the-top-5-traits-gen-z-looks-for-in-leaders/‹ Previous PostNext Post ›