Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
July 2013   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Generational Leadership

Rarely a week goes by when I am not presented with the seeming reality that because each generation is different each needs different leadership. In other words, one doesn't want to lead a bunch of baby boomers the same way one would lead generation-x or millennials. This is just one more piece of widely accepted leadership thinking that doesn't hold up under closer examination. I know this because I have led people from all generations and found all respond well to the same fundamentally sound practices.

Oh it's true that each generation is different; each finds its own unique way of getting into trouble. Permit me a few often unfair stereotypes when I observe that most people believe boomers work too hard and place too much emphasis on "stuff," generation x is renowned for entitlement and millennials are reputed to disrespect authority, play too much and work too little. While there is some truth to these differences good leaders don't remedy these problems by leading each group differently, they tap into the timeless practices that have always worked.

So let's return to the idea that each generation is different and contrast this with the reality that the big powerful leadership dynamics are more timeless. A few years ago I was leading a workshop with a mixed group of generations, as is most often the case, when I noticed three young interns in the group (millennials) and I decided to have some fun with this generational idea to make a point. Looking at the interns I observed that, "People often say you millennials are easily bored, that you like to change jobs as often as you buy new shoes." They smiled back and laughed a little. I continued, "I don't really think you are so different." Now I had their attention. I said, "I bet you would rather work for a leader and an organization you didn't want to leave than one you could leave without hesitation." Well they nodded and started laughing as they affirmed my observation. You see we all want to work for good leaders who value our work and have a sense of vision for the organization - this is just one of those timeless dynamics. It's not that millennials all want to leave their jobs frequently, it's just that too few leaders are giving them reasons to stay.

The fact that another author claims to have come up with the secret to leading another generation sells lots of books and workshops but it is based on a faulty premise. Most of the core leadership dynamics have remained the same throughout the ages: people are loyal when leaders give them a reason to be, productivity will always matter, uncaring leaders will always get uncaring followers, too much leisure and not enough work always leads to problems, autocratic leadership never works, and yes, sooner or later employees across all generations have to learn to show up on time and accept direction if they are to be successful.

Each generation does indeed find its own way to get into trouble but the way out is found in leadership practices that tap basic timeless dynamics about work and human nature. Give people a vision worth reaching for, a clear role, good communication that builds trust and helps them feel involved; give them lots of quality feedback to keep their work on track and the coaching they need to develop their talents, then treat every performance like it really matters, and whether they are 25 or 55, they stay and work hard. They develop the same rightful pride in the organization and vision they are part of.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How recently has someone suggested you should lead different generations differently?
  2. Which was the last trendy leadership idea that caught your attention and how would you contrast it with more timeless thinking?

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
July 2013   |   By Dan Gaynor


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