Now more than ever leaders and managers are having to lead across different generational groups. COVID-19 is showing two different trends among Baby Boomers: some being forced to retire due to organizational constraints and others staying in the workforce due to the poor economy and not able to financially retire. This means that many organizations have 4 generations of workers; a real breadth of ages, attitudes and experiences for leaders to manage and draw on.
Leading Across Generations
One of the best leadership styles for leading across generations is servant leadership. That means putting the needs of other people first over yourself; serving others in the pursuit of goals rather than using power to achieve.
Leading Across Borders and Generations – The How-To of Servant Leadership
Interestingly, the aspects of servant leadership that can help you lead better across generations can also help you lead better across borders such as, in multi-cultural organizations.
- Be self-aware about your beliefs, the stereotypes or biases you hold about the various generations. We all have some form of preconceptions towards others so reflect on what you might believe about Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials or Gen Z. Encourage your employees to be self-aware as well.
- Understand people as individuals rather than making assumptions about them or buying into generalizations based on age or generation. Everyone is unique. In your team, what are each person’s values, motivations, needs and working styles?
- Notice your impact on others and be intentional about what impact you want to make. Consider each individual and situation, what behaviour on your part would best serve this moment? This also means leading by example. As Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world”.
- Listen. Everyone wants to feel valued and respected regardless of which generation they fall into. The biggest way to have your team feel valued is to really listen to what they say, and don’t say. Listen for the words and the emotion. Say phrases such as “what I think I heard you say is….” which shows you are trying to understand them and their ideas.
- Embrace differences and leverage them for the best outcome. Research shows that well-managed diversity improves organizational performance. Diversity makes us think better as an organization; we question our assumptions thereby coming to more innovate and well-rounded solutions. People of different ages, backgrounds, education, races, genders, and generations bring diversity by definition. Value those differences by creating space for everyone to contribute.
- Create an environment that allows people to perform at their best. What does each individual need to be their best selves? What are the strengths of each team member and how do you foster there use more? The first step in this is asking people what brings out their best and what are their strengths. The key is for both you and them to consciously know. Too often organizations focus on weaknesses, gaps or development areas rather than having people use more of their strengths more often. Share among the team who is great at what.
- Be courageous and vulnerable. You won’t get it right all the time when managing individuals. Sometimes you’ll have a bad day, sometimes others will have a bad day. Be courageous to continue trying new behaviours and saying new things. It takes vulnerability to try new things and risk making a mistake or looking foolish.
- Give constructive feedback consistently and ask for feedback about yourself. Constructive feedback is positive feedback (what they do well that you’d like them to continue doing) and developmental (what you’d like them to do differently for improved effectiveness). Research shows that high performing organizations give 4-6 pieces of positive feedback for every 1 piece of developmental. Leaders give constant feedback throughout the organization and they accept feedback, solicit it in fact about themselves.
- Create trust or psychological safety amongst members in the team. Many of the previous behaviours such as listening, self-awareness and understanding others will help build this safety and trust. Additionally, have your employees’ backs, if they fail or make a mistake, support them and strive for learning. Give them opportunities to shine. Banish blame. Promote positivity, openly squelch negativity. Involve the team in the bigger picture and in key decisions so they are engaged.
- Coach team members rather than problem solving for them. Coaching helps people figure out their own solutions to issues. The leader needs to listen, ask questions, suspend making assumptions, refrain from giving them ‘what you think the answer is.’ It might take more time initially which will pay off in the long-run as it breeds inner resourcefulness in staff.
Leading Across Generations Training
You can probably find some training for leading across generations and my belief is that most of the elements that make leaders successful at managing across generations are the same elements that make leaders successful in managing people, as individuals are unique. Practice the 10 behaviours and approaches above to improve your effectiveness with any team. Encourage the team members to talk to each other, share ideas, leverage their unique strengths and value the differences rather than disparage the differences.
If you are lucky enough to have multiple generations working in your organization, leverage each of them for the solid contribution they can make to each other, the organization and its goals.
What cross-generational leadership improvements would you and your organization benefit from?
Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to assess your leadership and address what might be impeding greater success.
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