Intergenerational Leadership Begins with Us: We Have More in Common Than We Thought

Guest post by Mark H. Fowler & Noal McDonald:

Leadership is a complex idea: one that is not consistently easy to wrap our minds around.

We know good leadership when we see it. Most of us have experienced great leaders somewhere in our lives. It could have been at work, in school, on the athletic field or with a group of friends. If we think of what these experiences have in common, we might think of this quote by Harold Koontz and Cyril O’Donnell: “Leadership molds individuals into a team.”

With this interpretation, let’s look at challenges leaders face in today’s workplace.

There are more generations in the workplace than ever before. With more data and research on generational characteristics than in the past, it can lead us to greater segregation and dissonance. Characteristics are often applied across the board to individuals based on age.

Millennials are often at the forefront of all this analysis and have been researched, written about and discussed more than any previous generation. We’ve given them attributes that can separate them out and may put them at odds with non-millennial groups in the workplace.

How can a leader lead across generational divides? Before we tackle that thorny question, let’s look at the generations from a different perspective. A recent study by IBM shows that the generations are more similar than different on certain issues.

Results from 1,784 employees in 12 countries and six industries show that the generations are only a few percentage points different when asked about the importance of some of the characteristics we attribute to millennials, including:

 – Meaningful work: wanting purpose, not just a paycheck; managing work/life balance.

– Leadership characteristics: desiring a boss who provides hands-on feedback and guidance.

– Leave jobs for same reasons: advancement, money, opportunity (millennials are considered job hoppers, but in the survey, 75 per cent had been in their current jobs for more than three years).

– Everyone gets a trophy: teams and working collaboratively had more rating gaps, with 64 per cent of Gen X saying everyone on a successful team should be rewarded, while millennials and boomers were 55 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively.

Perhaps we have more in common than we thought. Maybe people don’t fit so well in boxes.

Based on the IBM research, the majority of the workforce, regardless of generation, holds the same beliefs that engagement is best produced by leaders who can:

– Communicate the organization’s vision.

– Encourage collaboration and innovation.

– Help individuals see their connection and purpose within the organization.

 People throughout industries and across generations are looking for leaders who have:

– Humanity and humility with courage and transparency to ask for honest feedback and diligence to make changes.

– Openness to diverse ideas and ability to encourage cooperation and collaboration.

– Ability to have authentic conversations that engage others and create a space where all can contribute their best talents and be honored for their contribution.

Leaders, wherever they are in the organization, can build great teams using these characteristics.

What is becoming more apparent as we look at successful organizations is that leadership does not reside only in the C-suite, but can add value throughout. We can all demonstrate leadership characteristics with peers, co-workers and teams as well as with our leaders. Each of us can lead in his/her own way. It can be as simple as leading with an idea that could mean success for everyone. It can mean leading a discussion where it is clear that everyone is welcome, if not required, to participate.

Success comes from our ability to connect one-on-one while building trust and relationships. Leaders and individuals work best when they can connect on common ground and engage with each other to create the best outcome. Each generation, each individual, regardless of place or role, has something of value to contribute to the success of the business.

This is a tall order for anyone. How can we accomplish all of this? It starts with our conversations.

There is art and science to the kind of conversations that can have the impact we need in our organizations today. While we can spend a lifetime improving our skills, here are two ideas to help us be better leaders wherever we are.

Coming alongside

Take the lead by being the first to come alongside others to see what we can constructively accomplish together. Coming alongside is not about relinquishing your ideas; it is about learning how to incorporate and collaborate with each other and equally participating for the ultimate goal. We can engage through honoring accomplishments, understanding what everyone has to say and attempting to know what it is like to walk in their shoes. Effective leaders are able to set aside their agendas and embrace that others have just as much to add to the situation.

Being on the same page

This is about making sure that everyone truly understands a project and its goals. Reaching out to ensure that everyone is heard and is able to support the decision will prevent surprises down the line. The process builds relationships and connections that strengthen any team.

By adding these two concepts as the foundation of our conversations, we can become leaders in every situation. We will build trust, stronger relationships and commitments to achieve mutual goals.

We can all lead together. It will pay many dividends. With leaders across all generations and in all levels of the organization, we can create a culture where everyone can thrive. You will be more than surprised.

Author Bios:

Noal McDonald is co-author of Revolutionary Conversations: The Tools You Need for the Success You Want. As a Co-CEO of Revolutionary Conversations, LLC, she develops and delivers courses and workshops for corporations and strategic alliances that want to enhance engagement, create collaborative cultures and improve employee performance.

Mark H. Fowler is the president of Stowe Management Corporation and Co-CEO of Revolutionary Conversations, LLC. He is a business growth and corporate re-engineering expert, author and writer, business educator, public speaker and change leader.