The Journey of Agile Organisation

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  • Providing inspiring leadership across generations

Habits of Highly Productive Transformation Leaders
Prof. Lere Baale

I learnt early from my mum, as well as other mentors over the years, to deliberately look for and appreciate the good in everybody. There is always something inspiring that you can learn from everyone you come across, whether you agree or disagree with their lifestyles. I have realised, for example, that those who get the best out of me are those who focus on the good they can find in me, despite my flaws.

As a student of leadership, I began to study several inspiring leaders who have left a tremendous indelible mark on my mind or left inspiring legacies. I wanted to learn from them through observations and direct questions. My findings revealed that I had found great inspiration from both my superiors and my peers; both the old and the younger generations.

Overseeing a group of employees in different age groups can be a challenge to even the most seasoned leaders. Some leaders pay close attention to how employees operate on more personal levels. Employees of different generations who work closely together could be a source of that conflict. Many leaders struggle to deal with age gaps, while managing large groups. Since they all have to work together regularly, certain situations give rise to frustrations. For example:

“David is just so slow; I feel like I have to pull teeth to get his reports, and I can’t finish mine until he turns them in!”

“Kate just assumes everyone knows our new software as well as she does, but I didn’t get to use the programme at previous jobs as she did.”

As leaders, it is our job to inspire employees from different generations to set aside differences in work ethics and find common ground.

How to manage generational conflict

You cannot help people’s preconceived ideas about those who represent a different generation. Some of these ideas are founded (intentionally or not) in representations of generations in the media. For instance, older workers are stubborn and resist change; younger workers “slack off” or do not act professionally.

While these stereotypes might make for good comedy, in the real working world, they can hinder your workplace dynamics and drain productivity. Your challenge as a leader of cross-generation employees is getting them to work together while helping them understand what the other brings to the table. The good news is that it is entirely possible if you keep these five ideas in mind:

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Promote each generation’s strong points

Highlight “veteran” employees who have worked for the company or within the field for a long time. They have been around, so they know what works and what does not on practical levels. Likewise, if your younger employees have expertise in newer skills (e.g., creativity with PowerPoint, managing social media), point it out and tell your team that those employees are the “go-to” persons, to ask for help if they need it.

Discourage “group thinking” where you can

As in the example above, it could be expected for younger workers to think older employees will be lost when using new tech (e.g., Skype for tele-meetings and managing website content), but that is not always the case. Emphasise that everyone has unique talents to bring to the table, regardless of experience and knowledge.

Adopt “mixed” mentoring

It is always tempting to match new employees with similar people—that is, according to gender and age. However, in the end, this limits the new hire’s learning ability and the mentor’s teaching power. People of different generations can teach each other in ways often overlooked. Better matches are those that pair people with similar learning styles or backgrounds.

It is OK to bend some “rules.”

Remind older workers that what used to be unwritten communication rules might not apply anymore. For example, responding to a phone message via email is now considered acceptable. Conversely, younger workers should be reminded that people above a certain age can be less attached to portable tech than they are. It might take an older worker more than 30 seconds to respond to a text—it is not because they are trying to ignore you.

Get over the idea of “fairness.”

Many older workers complain that the younger generations are coddled and have not “paid their dues.” Likewise, younger employees may begrudge some senior employees’ tenure, complaining that “seniority” enables underperformance on the job.

While these situations can sometimes materialise, as a leader, you can emphasise that ability and confidence on the job should not be a time competition. Emphasise that effort and merit are the values that matter, not how long anyone has been around (or not).

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Fostering work camaraderie between employees of different generations can sometimes be sticky. However, focusing on the positive aspects of your team’s diversity of age and experience sets the tone for both groups to work together with mutual admiration and respect.

In today’s workplace, miscommunication is more likely than ever before.

This is partly due to the proliferation of communication tools, technology, and ever-evolving ways to communicate increasingly rapidly. However, it is also due to the different values and life experiences that shape the different generations at work.

With the various generations come differing communication styles and knowledge gained throughout a lifetime of experience. Each generation has a preferred way it likes to be led, and using these select leadership styles, managers can build trust and communicate with employees in the best possible way to boost understanding, motivation and results.

When attempting to lead people representing multiple generations, it is essential to remember that each is unique and can contribute to success through different strengths and weaknesses. Examining the primary generations at work is a good place for managers to start.

Generations in today’s workforce

With an increasing number of generations working alongside one another in organisations, there has been an increasing trend of miscommunication between different generations.

There are five main generations in the general workforce today: matures who refused to retire or possibly run a firm as entrepreneurs; baby boomers; Generation Xers; millennials; and Generation Z. Each has its own set of characteristics and values which make them unique.

How these generations are separated varies from study to study, but matures or traditionalists are those born before 1945; baby boomers are those born between 1945 and 1963; Generation Xers are those born between 1964 and 1984; millennials are born between 1985 and 1996; and Generation Zers are those born in and after 1997. Each generation has different likes, dislikes, attributes and attitudes surrounding work.

Of the main miscommunication issues that arise when dealing with people of different generations, one of particular importance occurs when a manager of a certain generation is communicating with employees of a different generation. This could be a boomer managing Generation Xers or a millennial managing boomers.

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There are leadership style differences between the generations as well. Some prefer a more autocratic leadership style, while others prefer a hands-off leader. While there is no right or wrong leadership style, some work better when communicating within and between the generations. Generational differences have an enormous impact on reactions.

The preferred leadership styles of each generation should be important to managers for many reasons but primarily because using the preferred style when communicating with people from different generations builds more trust. This will, in turn, increase communication among managers and employees and possibly improve employee motivation and performance. If a leadership style is not working for a particular person, they are less likely to be motivated to work hard.

Leadership styles overview

For this discussion, the five leadership styles considered are laissez-faire, autocratic, participative, transactional and transformational.

Laissez-faire leadership, the most relaxed of the styles, should be used for highly experienced and trained employees. Because it does not value direct supervision, it also fails to provide regular feedback, which can be a problem for employees who are not well-trained and require direct supervision. On the other hand, in autocratic leadership, the manager has total control over the employees and will often make decisions without their input. This leadership style benefits employees who require direct supervision but not those who are more creative.

Participative leaders value the team’s input but realise the end decision rests on the leader. This leadership style gives employees responsibility, which can boost trust in the manager and employee morale. Transactional leadership involves a give-and-take relationship between the manager and the employee. This means that the manager and employee are predetermined to meet goals together, and the manager provides rewards or punishments to team members based on their accomplishments on the predetermined tasks.

Transformational leadership depends on high levels of communication and requires the involvement of management to reach goals. This means that the manager will focus on the bigger picture within an organisation and delegate smaller tasks to contribute to the company’s overall goals.

(contined next edition)

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