Leading Across Generations

Leading Across Generations

Much has been written and spoken over the decades on adjustments leaders must make to connect with and get the most out of a specific generation. And while mindsets and behaviors from each generation have specific nuances, traits, and tendencies – influenced by culture, current trends, upbringing, the arts, religion, politics, and social movements – there are needs and desires that run common through all people, and essential leadership tenets you can’t afford to ignore with any generation.
In fact, it can be foolish to put so much focus on a particular generation that you overlook leadership basics that would positively impact all people on your team. Getting back to basics in leadership is about reviewing, retooling, and recommitting to these commonsense aspects of relationships and development, to strengthen the foundation of one’s personal leadership and the organization overall. My next several columns will address aspects of generational leadership excerpted from a training program I’ve developed on the topic, starting with a series of foundational thoughts on the topic and extending to: positive workplace aspects you must have in place to affect all generations; foolish practices you must eliminate that are detrimental to all team members; and a series of keys to connecting with, influencing, and getting the most out of every person on your team: regardless their age or background.

Four Foundational Thoughts on Generational Leadership:

1. It is common to believe it’s always “them” that is peculiar or needs to change, when the fact is, it is all of us that is peculiar or needs to change from the eyes of someone different than ourselves. In leadership, influencing others for the better always starts with changing our own mindset and behaviors. It is incumbent on leaders to adapt to connect with their followers, and not wait for followers to connect with them.

Frankly, not much changes for any of us until something changes within us. And very often that means realizing the changes you must make personally in priorities, energy, and investment to better connect with, develop, inspire, and retain all team members.

2. The fact is that even within the same generation, a leader must adapt his or her approach to fit the person, and won’t find it effective to attempt to influence, motivate, or impact all in the same way. One of my favorite quotes of Coach Vince Lombardi says it well: “You’ve got to know them to move them. My job is to learn forty different ways to move forty different men.”

As a leader, you’ll more likely get to “know” people at a deeper level with meaningful conversations, than with memos, emails, or daily “drive-bys,” where you bustle through the workplace and have mostly incidental conversations with people about the weather or favorite ball team as you hurry off to review numbers in your office. While it’s not possible to effectively know everyone in an organization, as a leader your priority must be those in your direct charge or with whom you interact with most often.

3. When we spend too much time trying to understand or connect with a specific generation, we normally do it at the expense of ignoring or taking other generations for granted. This is why revisiting aspects and strategies that work with ALL generations is an essential place to reboot our leadership growth and impact. From that foundation, one can tweak verbiage, styles, and approaches accordingly.

Becoming brilliant in the basics of sound leadership and people principles, and never veering from those aspects too often or for too long, is essential to your continued growth and fulfillment as a leader.

By the very definition of human nature (the general psychological characteristics, feelings, and behavioral traits of humankind, regarded as shared by ALL humans) we’re reminded of the commonalities between all people, and that should prompt us to always focus there as these common aspects of influence, connection, and people development are foundational.

4. While you can’t change those from different generations, you can influence the way others think, which in turn will change behaviors and results for that person. This is because one’s mindset influences their behaviors, and behaviors create results. Too many managers want to change someone’s results without first influencing the person how to think differently about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they’re doing it. But without a meaningful relationship with that person (normally because you don’t spend enough quality time with them), your ability to influence them is impaired—and this applies to anyone from any generation.

Building productive workplace relationships takes time, work, and consistency; but, there’s little you can invest your time in that brings a greater return. It actually requires far more work in the long run to try to get more from someone with whom you have a poor relationship and never really connected with – or when you to have to replace that person because they either failed or left due to your leadership neglect.

In a follow up column, I’ll go into greater detail concerning The Relationship Factor, but I’ll introduce it here as it demonstrates how foundational it is to influencing and impacting all people on your team at a higher level.
Relationship Factor: The strength of workplace relationships one has with another determines the depth of influence one has with that person, and the depth of that influence determines the extent of positive impact one may have on a person.

Bearing the Relationship Factor in mind, how much time did you spend last week intentionally endeavoring to build a productive workplace relationship with your direct reports from all generations so you can more greatly influence and impact them in their job? What’s scheduled in that regard for this week? If you’re spending too much time with stuff and not enough time with people, nothing is going to change much for you relationally with your people, until you re-prioritize your people to their proper place.