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.