Leadership for the Ages – Part Four of Some

No generation has a monopoly on what’s right. It would behove leaders from every generation to keep that in mind. 

The generation I call “The Changers,” the ones born between 1964 and 1980, were shaped by the fall of the Berlin Wall, Watergate, Desert Storm, the energy crisis, technology, and the internet. As the first generation of kids where both parents were likely to work they are more independent than the generations before them. They have seen their parents down-sized, right-sized and let go after sacrificing everything for their company. They’re less loyal to their employers and expect to change jobs. Sometimes often.

They expect fast gratification, and they’re technically savvy. They need feedback and recognition, but don’t want a lot of rules. The “Changers” want flexibility and freedom at work. They’ve seen a ton of corporate and political corruption, which has left them pretty skeptical. While for a time “The Middles” generation didn’t trust anyone over 30, this generation has some issues trusting anyone over 50. 

Because “Changers” naturally place a lower priority on work, many leaders from the “Middles” generation think that these workers are not as dedicated. There is no real evidence of that, in fact, the research would simply show they are dedicated differently. They are more willing to take on challenges and are known to be highly adaptive to job instability in the post-downsizing era.

They were also the first generation to grow up with technology. That seems to be why this generation cares more about productivity and less about the number of hours spent on the job. Because they best understand how to maximize and leverage the new technology, they value a balanced lifestyle and equality on the job.

This generation isn’t better or worse than the ones that came before. They aren’t better workers or worse. They are just different. Their life experiences have provided them with a different set of values. 

These different values can cause conflict. When one generation attempts to lead another their value systems influence and guide their leadership style. The values they have built throughout their lives can make it tough to be objective. As humans, we are biased towards our own values, that isn’t right or wrong, it’s just the way it is.

As a leader, when conflict does arise, you need to put your biases aside. So if a “Middle” and a “Changer” are having conflicts with each other, and you’re a “Middle” leader, you can’t naturally side with your fellow “Middler,” just because you share similar values. You need to be objective, understand the differing values of each person involved, and lead according to the circumstances and the people involved.

Leaders adjust, the great ones have different “styles” and methods. Just remember, leaders adjust themselves, not rules or principles. 

If you’re going to lead cross generationally then you need to understand this: if you’re in a conflict with someone from a different generation it’s very possible that they are not fighting you. It might be you fighting them. You’re trying to change their values, trying to make them into something or someone that they simply can’t be. It’s a fight that Authentic Servant Leaders know they cannot and should not win. 

Improve your leadership by using who and what your people are to their advantage and to yours. You’ll grow, they will grow and your organization will grow as well.

4 thoughts on “Leadership for the Ages – Part Four of Some

  1. Very interesting series Steve. : )

    These generational clashes do get me fired up every once in awhile. (grins)

    This morning I had read Dan’s post ( @leadershipfreak) and that ignited a series of tweets about generational differences. And believe it or not…I knew you would be posting again today so I was curious about what you’d come up with! : )

    Don’t get me wrong, I love Dan! And I’m used to his style of posts and there’s generally only 2 subjects that his content can get me riled up on and that’s gender issues and occasionally the generational gap issues. Yet I’m glad these issues get brought up because I think it’s important that we can all talk about it and even more then that, we may not even KNOW how we feel about something until a topic is brought up!

    Anyway, back to your post here…

    On the one hand, I feel it’s really important and helpful for each generation to have a fairly good understanding of what is unique to each generation. It can help pave the way for greater understanding. At the same time, we need to be careful of stereotyping. The reason? Even within the same generation, not everyone was brought up the same, had the same life experiences, the same benefits and/or handicaps…each person has a different experience!

    At 45, I’m part of the Changer generation. And yet, I didn’t spend my childhood with technology. We didn’t have cell phones and computers until the 90’s…long after I graduated from high school and was already married! So my childhood was completely different from that of my own two daughters simply on the basis of technology alone!

    The whole work ethic comment gave me a bit of heartburn too. (grins)

    Again, not everyone was raised the same way. When I first read what you said, my initial thought was…who are you referring to when it comes to WORK? I, personally, held jobs since GRADE SCHOOL..paid for my own school clothes, my own entertainment since the 6th grade. I held multiple baby sitting jobs in the neighborhoods that I lived growing up, in each town I lived in..after schools and during the summer time until I was old enough to be hired at a fast food joint…and then eventually progressed to other jobs like Ginghiss Formalwear and a health and fitness club before I even graduated from high school. From there, I joined the military, became a nurse, served my country. Came home. Got married. 6 months later I was re-activated to serve in Desert Storm.

    So my generation has experienced females going to war…while some of our men stayed at home and waited for us to return! So it’s a bit of a flip for some of us females and so perhaps, those of us who HAVE served our country….we will be quick to stand up and say wait a minute! This isn’t a fair assessment.

    Not only that, but I also had the misfortune of losing my husband early, at the age of 35 and have spent the last decade raising my daughter all by myself without any help. And again, there are times when older men talk about having wives bake them cookies while they go do whatever they want…they don’t have MY reference p oint and experience…I don’t have anyone here baking ME cookies or taking care of MY children or MY housework while I come and go as I please

    No. I get to do it ALL BY MYSELF.

    So yes..there’s a few things we all need to consider before we start stereotyping people between generations and within our own generation.

    We need to get to know the person. Our age differences matter far LESS when we don’t use generation gaps to cause interference. When we get to know each other…it’s far less of an issue.

    I know this, because I’ve experienced it before. (mainly in healthcare settings as I’ve shared before)

    Steve, I so appreciate you taking the time to write about generational difference because it IS important to be aware of in order to bridge the gaps in understanding. And if we can do that without stereotyping and treat each people as the individuals they are, it can make an even greater difference.

    Thank you.

    • Wow, what an amazing thoughtful response. Your comments always seem to make my posts better!

      One of the challenges with writing a series, especially a longer one like this, is that it’s hard to remember some of the earlier posts – like the first one where I said something about writing this series with VERY broad strokes because I understand even within generations there are major differences.

      Our generation is but one factor that helps shape our values – one of the biggest but only one.

  2. Understood. And I do recall you saying that and went back and reread you first post on the series. : )

    I can’t remember if you’ve already touched on this in one of your posts already, but it seems that we have a greater challenge then simply generation age gaps and that is the fact that the past couple of generations have grown faster in many ways and made more technological advances then ANY generation before it. We all have library’s of info at our finger tips where as before, we had to physically travel to a library or a bookstore to check out and purchase books to read and study.

    Now? While on the one hand it is very convenient and even EXCITING at times that we can just google whatever we want and have access to info we need…it is also STARTLING that we can instantly access that much ‘knowledge’. Because as you already know…knowledge doesn’t equate to WISDOM. There’s a couple of factors on that knowledge as well…not all knowledge is factual, yet many people either don’t take the time to verify fact or just don’t care, or don’t KNOW they need to and accept anything and everything as ‘it must be true’ just because someone typed it and said so! And the other is knowledge, even factual knowledge, used in the wrong way and unwisely is still powerful enough to cause a lot of damage and destruction.

    This is the only generation that has had THIS much knowledge…THIS fast…..

    My children had access to all KINDS of knowledge far earlier than MOST of us had growing up. Not just in written form, but visually. All of their sense have been intoxicated and in many ways DESENSITIZED by all they’ve been able to see and experience in the virtual world, the film industry, music etc.

    • Great point, and because they expect instant info on everything it can be almost paralyzing when it’s not available. I would love to see the world 50 years from now, I’d be surprised if the info was just implanted like a second brain 🙂

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