5 Ways Leaders Can Bridge the Generational Divide

By Sarah Clark

Today’s workforce is an amalgamation of multiple generations, each with a unique focus and set of needs.

Baby Boomers, for example, are hardworking and have goals that align with their lifestyle choices. They value position and prestige and are willing to work long weeks to see professional growth. Generation Xers, on the other hand, are responsible for the concept of a work-life balance. They have strong technical skills and know how to adapt to instability in their careers. Millennials are part of a global-centric generation. They appreciate diversity and inclusion, are team-focused, and are resilient in a quickly changing technological and business landscape.

With such a diverse team of employees, managers face the steep challenge of aligning goals and motivating individuals — and agile management is key to overcoming those hurdles.

The advent of agile management

Millennials have sparked key changes in traditional management and motivation — in a good way. Their attitudes and goals have reshaped and will continue to reshape business structures and cultures, ending the bottom-line focus spearheaded by the generations before them.

Millennials are team players who check in with one another often. They are good listeners and are willing to work hard to achieve their goals. They have the potential to grow into great managers because of their communication styles and abilities to mentor others.

That said, managers need to adopt certain agile leadership traits in order to effectively empower this group of future leaders. Agile leaders influence and study their diverse stakeholders and are quick to act and make decisions. They stay relevant and are able to release any perspectives no longer relevant to the workplace.

However, the necessity of agile leadership isn’t just a millennial view anymore. Nicholas Pearce, a clinical assistant professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, recently revealed that the generations’ views of leadership are more in sync than most people would think.

“In this knowledge economy, we have seen the rise of what we might call ‘leadership by commitment,’” Pearce said. “It engages and motivates and enables and integrates people to come together to make a common goal or vision a reality. This is a shift in leadership that we have seen really over the last few decades, and people of all generations would love to have leadership like this.”

Nurturing generational differences

So how does a manager become more agile and nurture employees from different generations? Here are five key actions:

1. Set concrete expectations and goals: As each generation has differing motivations, managers should set independent goals for individuals. Providing clear expectations allows for equality across the company and fosters growth and enthusiasm. Encourage group goals as well, taking advantage of the diversity of thought and motivation across the generations.

2. Encourage mentoring: Each generation offers unique strengths and knowledge sets. Encourage employees to mentor one another on technology, industry knowledge, and culture. The Boomers might be reluctant to have a millennial step in, but this inclusivity allows their differences to be framed as a positive and helps employees feel valued. Teamwork also leads to faster, more unique solutions.

3. Ditch the culture of seniority: Don’t always assume the most senior employee’s ideas are the best. Encourage boardroom meetings in which everyone contributes and offers solutions. Evaluate each suggestion, then choose the best one for your company.

4. Turn challenges into learning tools: A good leader learns constantly — often from the employees he or she manages. When facing challenges, an important trait is the ability to stay calm and engaged while coming up with a solution. Employees across all generations appreciate a manager who can adapt, especially one who can accept feedback and grow.

5. Foster communication: The generations have unique communication styles. Gen Xers prefer to use the phone or email, while millennials resort to texting or instant messages. Throw in abbreviations, minimal punctuation, and a lack of capital letters, and you’re facing a downward spiral in communication. Managers should try to communicate with each generation in its preferred method but also encourage in-person interactions among the employees as much as possible.

Choosing to manage to your employees’ specific needs and motivations can seem overwhelming at first. But once adopted, the process allows for success and increased productivity, as your employees know you view them as individuals rather than as cogs in a larger machine.

Image credit: Pexels

Sarah Clark is the president of Mitchell, an award-winning public relations firm that creates real conversations between people, businesses, and brands through strategic insights, customized conversations, and consumer engagement. The agency is headquartered in Fayetteville, Ark., with offices in Chicago and New York City. Mitchell is part of Dentsu Aegis Network, which is made up of nine global network brands and supported by its specialist/multimarket brands. Dentsu Aegis Network is Innovating the Way Brands Are Built for its clients through its best-in-class expertise and capabilities in media, digital, and creative communications services. Offering a distinctive and innovative range of products and services, Dentsu Aegis Network is headquartered in London and operates in 145 countries worldwide with over 30,000 dedicated specialists.

Clark is one of the top strategic communications professionals in the country, with more than 25 years of experience in corporate communications and an exceptional track record in protecting corporate reputations and redefining perceptions in key areas of business.

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