Leadership and the New Generations

Last week I asked the question, “Is Leadership Changing?” I think it is, and it must. Here’s why:

You only have to take note of the generational change in the workplace.  With four generations currently working, the clash of expectations has never been more poignant.

As of this writing, the four generations include Traditionals (ages 65 and up), Baby Boomers (ages 50-65), Gen-X (ages 35-60) and Millennials (ages 20-35).  Each generation has a different way of looking at the employer/employee relationship, since each were influenced by different life events. Each has a vastly different set of expectations for their life.  However, the generational differences don’t tell the whole story.

The rest of the story is in the shear generational numbers.  There are approximately 37 million Traditionals, 78 million Boomers, 54 million Gen-X and 77 million Millenials.  Many Traditionals have retired and left the workforce, but there are still many that either can’t or won’t.  Gen-X has run into the gray ceiling, and there are not enough Gen-Xers in the workforce to replace the retiring boomers.

Which leads us to the Millennials who are being pushed faster and farther than their predecessors. The Boomers pushed, created, and built upon the Traditionals’ world. Gen-X and the Millennials are being challenged to fit into that world, and it is a reluctant transition.

We need to stop and realize that the younger generations value things differently than the hard-working boomers have. They won’t march to our tunes. So the question is how do managers leverage the younger workers’ strengths in the workplace and minimize their liabilities?

This group of younger workers (under 35) shuns past definitions of success: climbing the company ladder and earning the rewards that come with greater responsibility. The company ladder, in their view, is irrelevant.

Mature workers and Boomers in managerial and leadership positions struggle with these differing values and beliefs, wondering how to motivate their younger colleagues. If promotions, raises and bonuses fail to motivate, then what does the trick?

We can identify several differences in values. The new generation of workers has:

  1. A work ethic that no longer respects or values 10-hour workdays
  2. An easy competence in technologies and a facility to master newer ones with little discomfort
  3. Tenuous to nonexistent loyalty to any organization
  4. Changed priorities for lifetime goals achievable by employment

The most significant changes in perspective involve time, technology and loyalty. While they may not be loyal to a company, they seek out mentors and want to work for great bosses. And this is where smart bosses will pay attention.

New Millennials are searching for fulfillment first from their jobs. When they find managers who care about them, who want them to learn and excel in their careers, they’ll do their best for them.

There is much written and being written about generational change. We have some pretty good research on what each generation wants, how they like to be treated, what their expectations are, how they see the world.

Generational diversity is requiring a new evolution in leadership. I believe it will require everyone to be better bosses. What do you think?

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