Humans have always found reasons to judge each other. Each generation thinks they are better than the one before them and smarter than the one behind. This sort of generational judgement shows up in the media and around the water cooler in every workplace
“Young people don’t know what hard work is,”
goes the common catchcry about Gen Y and Millennials.
“They care more about social media than work, they spend all their money on coffee and smashed avocado and wonder why they can’t afford a property.”
And what about the judgements thrown at Gen X and the Baby Boomers?
“They can’t use technology or think independently,”
younger people lament.
“They had it so much easier than us and now they own all the property.”
In a recent critical review of leadership theory focused on generational differences, authors Rudolph, Rauvola and Zacher concluded: “Considering the various perspectives reviewed and critiqued herein (i.e., theoretical, empirical, or applied) and the paucity of evidence to support the existence of distinct generational groups, we now call for a formal moratorium to be placed on the application of the idea of generational differences as an explanatory framework in leadership theory, research, and practice.”
In other words, basing any leadership discussion on which generation does it better will not result in meaningful change.
According to McCrindle’s research, we are in for good times when Gen Y become the leaders of our organisations. “They lead in less structural, authoritarian, command and control styles. They are more collaborative, consultative and communicative than espoused by 20th century management models. Generation Y are re-balancing the leadership equation with a productivity focus and a people centricity – the head and the heart are being effectively engaged to manage diverse teams in these fast-moving times.”
No matter what generation you belong to, you need to navigate the generational divide to develop your career. Be it real or imagined, what your colleagues think matters because it impacts the quality of your working relationships and, therefore, your effectiveness as a leader.
Here are five tips to help you overcome generational prejudices and thrive in your career.
1. Have a goal that serves something bigger than you
People of all ages can sense selfishness a kilometre away. If you are out to serve yourself ahead of others and the customer, your peers and colleagues will notice and turn against you. However, if you operate with a purpose and vision (‘P & V’) that aims to increase client value, employee satisfaction and collaboration, you will create momentum, increase profits and achieve sustainable results.
It is okay to be ambitious and have personal goals, if you achieve them in the service of others.
2. Know yourself and your sensitivities
If you pursue your P & V well, you will generate change. Most people will resist change, regardless of their generation, even if it’s for the common good. Understand this and strategise for it. Read Kegan and Lahey’s Immunity to Change. Learn about your stage of consciousness and use your self-knowledge to anticipate the ‘fear-driven strategies’ of others. If you are susceptible to the feardriven resistance strategies of others, you will exhaust yourself and your passion for the P & V will wane.
When you learn to recognise the physiological, emotional and mental indicators of your own fear-driven mind, you can develop an approach that strategically leads the team towards achieving the P & V.
• Communicating your P & V and allowing others to consider it.
• Listening to their perspectives until they have accepted and adopted the P & V as their own.
• Patiently letting them express their fears and worries. Fears diminish once they are shared.
• Once the fears and worries have diminished, ask people for their ideas on how to achieve the P & V.
• Consciously lead the group towards the P & V, building trust and dialogue skills along the way.
3. Build your human leadership skills
In the classic leadership book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni led a generation of leaders to respect the importance of building trust. Once trust is established, people can talk about business issues without fearing conflict. Lencioni suggests if you have trust 48 spark magazine and meaningful dialogue, your team will respond with commitment and accountability for business results.
Focus on building a trusting and collaborative culture that holds dialogue above accuracy, collaboration above perfection, and you will have a team that is prepared to learn and grow as a collective.
4. Be a continuous learner
Learning is not just for those at the start of their careers. Exponential changes in technology and shifts in generational expectations have created limitless learning opportunities – making learning a career-long pursuit. So how do you choose what to study and what to learn? Return to your P & V and reflect on what knowledge would serve it best.
Great ways to educate yourself: • Improve your technical skills and capability.
• Learn how to practice adaptive leadership.
• Learn from others, regardless of their age, and leverage that wisdom at every opportunity – none of us is as smart as all of us!
• Support the learning of others and enjoy the resulting increase in trust and capability.
5. Understand the difference between technical and adaptive leadership
Heifetz and Linksy from the Harvard Kennedy School for Government observed that leadership is a practice, not a position. Their extensive research found “the single biggest failure of leadership is to treat adaptive challenges like technical problems.” Traditionally, employees are promoted to a leadership role because they’re technically good at doing their job. The challenge arises when the new manager or leader can’t let go of being the fixer. Most leaders, as Heifetz and Linsky noted, apply technical fixes to adaptive challenges, which by their nature don’t have straightforward solutions. They also recommend you “get onto the balcony to see the dance floor” and review the patterns and movements of the organisation. Many executives credit coaching with giving them the space and time to get onto the balcony for a strategic overview of their leadership and their organisation.
Leadership, especially where there are generational divides is an adaptive challenge and you will be more successful if you practice leadership with an adaptive approach.
Any leader, regardless of their generation, can achieve meaningful change. All it takes is a purpose and vision you believe in, an understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses, relationship skills and a willingness to learn every single day.
Peter Shields is a transformational executive coach specialising in leadership transformation.
Read his ground breaking new leadership transformation fiction ‘Leadership Alchemy’ and embark on your personal leadership transformation.
Leadership and Generations at Work: A Critical Review Rudolph; Rauvola & Zacher 2017
https://www.researchgate. net/publication/320046672_ Leadership_and_Generations_at_ Work_A_Critical_Review
Leadership and Generation Y: Managing Generational Change and Bridging Gender Gaps
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: Patrick Lencioni
Immunity to Change: Kegan and Lahey
The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organisation and the World. Heifetz, Linsky and Grashow.
This article was first published in Spark Magazine – Summer Edition, you can see the full magazine here
Also published online at Governance Institute of Australia