Leadership styles across the generations
The matures or traditionalists’ characteristics were shaped in their formative years by economic depression, WWII, rationing, few divorces, and gender roles. They have strong nuclear families, and parenting is associated with discipline.
Traditionalists like the command-and-control style, influenced by strong military associations. They enjoy writing letters and memos and prefer one-on-one meetings. Their career attitudes are informed by their job-for-life loyalty to one employer, and work being seen as a privilege.
The baby boomers have characteristics shaped by events like the cold war, the moon landing, the Civil Rights movement, the war in Vietnam and the high-profile assassinations of political figures and social movement leaders. Baby boomers tend to be more optimistic about authority, hierarchy and tradition. They’re also optimistic, driven and team-oriented. This combination means that some baby boomers are willing to respect authority, as long as they know their opinion or contribution is being considered in decision-making processes.
From a leadership standpoint, participative leadership styles and techniques can be effective. Approaching boomers with respect for their achievements, challenging them to contribute to a team to solve organisational problems and involving them in corporate change initiatives are techniques that can work. Doing this could motivate them to work harder to contribute more.
Where baby boomers are more team-oriented, Gen Xers tend to be more individually motivated and self-reliant. Often described as cautious, sceptical or unimpressed with authority, Generation X tends to be fair, competent, straightforward and brutally honest. Generation X admires competence and honesty. They do not value achievement as highly as other generations.
Due to their straightforward nature and need for honesty, Gen Xers are often the most difficult to manage and may not fit into one traditional leadership style. To gain their trust, tell them the truth, offer learning opportunities and respect the experiences that shaped their values, beliefs and ways of thinking. For some organisations, Gen Xers have become a significant focus for managers, due to the retirement of baby boomers. Generation X prefers leadership styles that are comparatively more autocratic, directive, task-oriented and transactional.
Like generations before them, millennials were shaped by events. In their case, 9/11, the rise of global terrorism, PlayStation, social media, reality TV, and the Great Recession have influenced their beliefs and way of life. Many millennials believe that they do not live to work but, instead, focus on their life outside of work. They often prefer fast and immediate processing, as well as working in teams. They also prefer to work in a more relaxed environment than a hierarchical structure and tend to be assertive with strong views because of their unlimited access to information.
Many millennials prefer to receive continuous and instant feedback from their managers. They like to know that what they do matters and want to be praised publicly for their accomplishments. Even though they prefer to be rewarded, it is best to tell them the truth about their work. If they are told they are underperforming, they will likely increase their productivity in an attempt to reach a reward. Millennials prefer leadership styles that are democratic, participative, relationship-oriented and transformational.
Generation Zers were significantly shaped by economic downtown, mobile devices, global warming, environmental issues, and Wiki-leaks. Grandparents and caregivers raised them because both parents work. They are constantly exposed to media. They enjoy fast promotions, quick responses and stimulation. They prefer the Internet as the authority. They have a preference for coaching leadership style.
Transactional solution for multiple generations
With each generation having a preferred leadership style comes the question of how best to lead teams that include members of each generation. A manager may not want to treat one employee different from another, simply to avoid the appearance of discrimination, based on age.
The best option for inflexible leaders may be to use a transactional leadership style. While this is not the preferred style for any generation, it includes aspects of each of the preferred leadership styles and is easiest to relate across generations.
Transactional leaders value structure and operate according to clear rules and regulations. They focus on results and recognise and reward employees practically, such as with money or perks. Along with identifying and rewarding employees, based on pre-established rules, regulations or goals set by a company, transactional leadership also favours structured policies and procedures. Employees can either work independently or in a tightly organised hierarchical structure. This balance of flexibility and design makes transactional leadership appealing to each generation.
Maintaining one consistent leadership style when communicating with different generations ensures the message is received by all and does not appear discriminatory or biased toward one generation.
While transactional leadership can be a good fit when dealing with multiple generations, it does have advantages and disadvantages. Benefits include clearly-defined rewards and penalties, the ability to achieve short-term goals quickly and a clear structure. On the flip side, creativity is limited because goals and objectives are already set, and it may not be the best fit for organisations where initiative is encouraged.
Situational leadership style for all generations
Many types of leaders are working hard in today’s world. We can see leaders directing people, as tasks are completed or goals are formed, by being specific with their instructions. Some leaders coach others towards success by encouraging independent skill development, while offering teaching moments.
Some leaders prefer to roll up their sleeves and get to work with everyone, coaching as they work to promote equality within their team. Some leaders take more of a hands-off approach, delegating work to others or observing their development from afar, then stepping in to provide advice only when it becomes necessary. Then there is a fifth type of leader: the situational leader.
Situational leaders are versatile; they evaluate the situation, the circumstances, and the competence and commitment of the individuals involved in their approach. Then they choose the most appropriate type of leadership style to use for that given circumstance. Instead of being locked into one general leadership style, all of them are incorporated into their approach. Since situational leaders are constantly adjusting their leadership style to suit the current situation, they must be flexible and adapt regularly.
If you build it, they will come
It is ultimately up to managers to determine the best way to lead and develop the people under their supervision, using a style that builds trust in the process. Each generation has a preferred way to be led, shaped by their life experiences and the values instilled within them. However, it is critical to avoid discrimination in communication and remember that what works for one person of a particular generation may not work for another person from the same generation.
When managers know their employees and establish trust with them, they learn about the life experiences that have shaped them and can figure out the best way to communicate with them. This analysis is just a stepping stone to help managers get on the right track to communicating with employees in a way that is most beneficial for the employee rather than the manager. Performance and results should rise by building trust and opening communication channels.
The ultimate secret to managing multigenerational teams
Since almost every team in our workplaces today is filled with employees from different generations, providing these employees with exemplary inspiring leadership to keep them motivated and get the best from them could be very challenging for a leader who is not flexible.
Do you feel a little out of sync with colleagues of other generations as you work on projects and in teams? Some people call this “the generation gap” in the workplace. However, here is a secret — regardless of age, they are probably much more like you than you might expect.
For example, Millennials want to be part of a team, not just because it enables the work and their goals, but also because of the social interactions it provides. Working on teams — with people they trust and care about — is how Millennials feel connected to the organisation. Interestingly, this is true for employees of all generations.
Is it possible to effectively work with and inspiringly lead people across generations without pulling your hair out? Absolutely. Creating a team dynamic that works for everyone is essential — and it can be done. Analysts sometimes have analysis paralysis when they make an impression that the generations do not share anything in common. The goals are similar for the different generations at work.
The pathways to the plans may not be the same for different ages, but there are still some similarities in their perspectives and approaches to addressing issues.