Leadership by the New Generation

Bridging the Age Gap

Different generations, different approaches?

© iStockphoto

Picture this scenario: the leader of your long-established team has retired, and his replacement is a young manager, straight out of business school.

She's anxious to get going in the organization, and you hope that she'll bring some new life and energy into the company.

As the weeks go by, however, you begin to see growing discomfort and conflict between the older staff and this new team member. Your older colleagues think "the new kid" is overconfident, pushy, and too anxious to leave at precisely 5:00 p.m. The newcomer finds it hard to get support from her older colleagues. She's concerned that they can't (or won't) multitask, they're less confident with technology, and they're unwilling to share their hard-earned knowledge. As a result, cooperation is suffering.

How can you bridge this generation gap? And why is this important?

There's little doubt that the U.S. workforce is at a unique point in history (other countries face similar situations). As "Baby Boomers" – people born between 1946 and 1964 – begin to retire, a new generation is stepping into their shoes.

Generation X, or Gen X (born between 1965 and 1976), and Generation Y, or Gen Y (also called "Millennials," born between 1977 and 1998), have values and work styles that are completely different from the baby boomers. Finding ways to bridge the gaps within this new multigenerational workforce takes great skill – and it all starts with understanding how new generation leaders think, and what's important to them.

In the U.S., the drop in birth rate in the post baby boom years means that, by 2010, the number of people in the 35-44 middle management age group had dropped by nearly 20 percent. Many other major economies worldwide are facing similar demographic changes. One practical consequence of these statistics is that organizations have to work much harder to attract and retain good people.

New generation leaders are a scarce commodity, and should be nurtured as such.

Generations X and Y: What They Care About

The new generations   of leaders often have a completely different way of working from their older counterparts. (Keep in mind that not everyone in these generations fits the characteristics we'll talk about: we're going to make some huge generalizations here, however, hopefully these generalizations will be useful!)

For example, while boomers usually view long hours as evidence of loyalty and hard work, Gen X and Y tend to...

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