“Why are you here? With over 20 years’ management experience what else would you be seeking to learn?” I asked. “My current tea pickers are young Diploma and Degree holders. They are no longer the old men and women from the village. I cannot just give instructions any more. I need to learn how to manage them effectively.” The first participant answered. As I pondered that, the second participant continued, “Our management trainees are also below 24 years, we need to learn how to work with them.”
Every time I ask training participants what their expectations are, I hear the same generic answers. I want to learn leadership skills or I want to be a better manager. This response impressed me for two reasons. The participants were very clear on their management gap; they were also open enough to acknowledge it. Something else also impressed me. They did not label the young workers. They did not say, “I am managing millennials or Gen Z.” This is what I mostly hear. The downside is that it is mostly said from a stereotyped perspective.
This team acknowledged one thing; these workers are here to stay. They are the majority. It is our responsibility as leaders to learn how to work with them. No one chose which generation to be born in. In reality no generation is better than the other. They all just came to the world in different times and had different experiences that shaped who they are and how they view the world. Allow me to just sight a few examples;
- The Veterans (Before 1946) – They experienced world war 2, colonization and racial segregation. They consider questioning authority as insubordination and believe in top down management.
- The Baby Boomers (1946-1964) – They celebrated independence and rise of literacy levels. They generally don’t disagree with bosses but form committees to get data and present to the leaders.
- Generation X (1965-1980) – They experienced multiparty struggle and multiparty state. They hence feel rules were made to be broken and it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.
- The Millennials/Generation Y (1981-2000) – They were brought up by working parents and a nanny, experienced full multiparty democracy and rights agitation. They think of policies as guidelines and not rules to be followed.
- Generation Z (After 2000) – They were born with technology. They are always on and constantly aware of the world. They hence have a global mindset looking to make the world a better place.
Though this categorization serves research and is prone to overlapping, it clearly tells us how dynamic the generations are. Leading in these times maybe difficult and interesting at the same time. It is imperative that we understand and appreciate the differences between the generations. We also need to acknowledge that we cannot take them back to time to fit our expectations. It is our role to create a culture that embraces those differences and play to their strengths.
If you are feeling overwhelmed like my two training participants, here are a few pointers;
- Change your leadership tactics – Realize that no single management tactic will fit everyone in the team. With 4 generations in the work place, remember;
Baby boomers easily take instructions. We would say they are the ‘Yes Boss” generation and can be managed by telling.
Generation X needs personal motivation. They are the “What’s in it for me” generation and are managed by selling.
The millennials (Gen Y) are the teams with no leader. They don’t believe in hierarchy. They are the “Here’s what I think” generation. They are managed by involving and being flexible.
Generation Z is the global generation. They are the “What is your purpose” generation. They are managed by mission.
Though your leadership style needs to be consistent your tactics need to vary.
2. Banish generational myths and stereotypes – We have been younger and at some point we will also be older. Find commonalities between coworkers of different generations and focus on individual strengths rather than their age.
Every individual has his/her unique motivations, values and work styles. Age gaps can make these differences wider if not managed properly. Ability to lead a multigenerational team hence becomes an essential skill.
“Each generation has something different which they are looking at and we need to remember across generations that there is as much to learn as there is to teach”