I was asked to lead a workshop at the Kentucky Primary Care Association (KPCA) on the topic of leading multi-generational teams. I am always passionate about topics of leadership and team effectiveness, so I was excited to dive into this material. Apparently, it was seen as a critical topic, as it was extremely well-attended.  While most workshops had around 20 participants, we had over 80 in this one.  They even had to move me to a banquet room!

Generational Challenges are nothing new

I opened with a quote (more of a paraphrase, actually):

“This generation loves luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and goof off instead of working hard. They are now tyrants, not the worker-bees of the business. They don’t show proper etiquette. They contradict those with more experience, talk out of line, are self-centered, inappropriate, and refuse to learn.”

Who said this?  No, it wasn’t Simon Sinek or any other modern business leader. Nor was it a politician from the past, such as JFK or Abraham Lincoln. The author of this statement is none-other than Socrates.  (Okay, he said it in Greek, so it’s not a direct quote).  But it demonstrates how this is not a new problem.  Only the particulars are new.

I provided them with a definition of the five generations that may be found in our work environments today:

  • Traditionalists (born 1927-1944) – While there are not many directly involved in the business today, we still find them as founders and serving on boards.
  • Baby Boomers (1945-1964) – The largest and most influential generation of the past century. This audacious generation led many revolutions and drove much of the growth we have seen.
  • Generation X (1965-1980) – The silent generation is much smaller than their predecessors and have been serving in the background. They brought balance to the workplace and are stepping into the leadership void as boomers retire.
  • Millennials (1980-1997) – The oldest Millennials are now in their 40s!!! These “entitled renegades” are becoming leaders. Many are entering leadership at director and executive levels.
  • Gen-Z (1998-2017) – The most perplexing by far. This generation is starting to make their presence known as they enter the workforce. This generation has been dealt a tough hand, being raised in a post-9/11 world, they have been rocked with domestic violence, financial hard times, and a global pandemic. Heavy reliance on technology has also impacted their development of social skills.

Don’t Judge

While it’s easy to pick on the younger generations, one shouldn’t pre-judge them. We should not pre-judge a generation any more than we should pre-judge on skin color, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation.

Consider some of the strengths of each generation

  • Traditionalists – A calm attitude and a “been-there, done-that” mindset. They survived virtually everything that the current generation is going through.
  • Baby-Boomers – They are innovative problem solvers. So many advancements in retail, food, and lifestyle came from Boomers. Many of the revolutions (sexual, civil rights, anti-war, and even the technology revolution) were started by them.
  • Generation X – They are cautious and guarded. They are the most self-reliant of any generation. After bringing balance to the workplace (flex-time, casual dress, etc.), they can model for us a work ethic that is realistic and resourceful.
  • Millennials – Confident and entrepreneurial. They are compassionate, relational, and civic-minded. They look to impact the world in everything they do.
  • Gen-Z – They are comfortable with all forms of technology and are bringing creative ideas into the workplace. They question everything. We still have a lot to learn about this generation.

How to Lead

Leading across generations has never been harder. Perhaps because of the great difference between the generations. Also, because of the fact that we have more generations in a typical work setting than ever before.

Originally I developed 10 keys to leading across generations. I had to trim it down to seven for time.  Perhaps I’ll come back and develop the full list later.  This is what I shared in the workshop:

  1. Model and teach about priorities.
  2. Lead with trust and inspiration.
  3. Embrace technology.
  4. Develop social and emotional literacy.
  5. Implement a mutual-mentoring program.
  6. Foster a sense of community & inclusion.
  7. Encourage creativity and innovation.

Though each generation may have different goals, fears, and styles, being open to listening and learning can help bridge a generational gap to understand how to work together.

The most effective leaders learn how to embrace generational diversity. The most effective teams bring the strengths of each generation to the table.

To listen to the podcast from this presentation, click here.