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Leading Across Generations

As time marches forward, generations and their values, ideologies and working styles also change. As early as 20 years ago, leadership used to be very much task-oriented. But as the generation of baby boomers leave the picture; the workforce, at present, consists of an amalgam of three generations- Generation X, Generation Y (widely known as the millennials) and Generation Z. Managing and guiding teams comprising such diverse age groups are some of the most challenging aspects of leadership in this era, which requires the leaders to adapt their leadership styles to lead across these generational lines effectively. Each generation brings its unique set of principles, expectations, and work habits, making it crucial for leaders to understand and cater to these differences in order to foster a cohesive and high-performing team.


Understanding the Generations: X, Y, and Z

Generation X, born roughly between 1965 and 1980, is often characterised by its independent and self-reliant nature. Gen Xers tend to desire stability and a healthy work-life balance as they have experienced economic and political volatility growing up. They value open communication and prefer more hands-off leadership styles that allow them to complete things independently without continual supervision.

Millennials, or Generation Y, were born roughly between 1981 and 1994. This generation witnessed fast technological innovation and the rise of the internet. They appreciate meaningful employment, career advancement, and a flexible work environment. Millennials are noted for their technological savvy, collaborative approach, and desire for constant feedback and appreciation.

The youngest generation in today’s workforce, Generation Z or Gen Z, born between 1995 and 2009, is the first fully digital native generation. Having grown up with cell phones, social media, and instant connectivity, Generation Z emphasises authenticity, diversity, and a feeling of purpose in their job. They are distinguished by their entrepreneurial drive, versatility, and penchant for quick and succinct communication.

Despite each generation contributing to their workspaces according to their own uniqueness, persisting stereotypes against them can actively slow down productivity and progress. These stereotypes include the generalised idea of Gen Xers being technologically challenged, cynical and individualistic; Millennials being entitled, lazy job hoppers and financially irresponsible; and Gen Z being screen-addicted, having short attention spans, being lazy and lacking seriousness. According to a 2017 study published by the NIH, “Employees threatened by age-based stereotypes concerning work performance are less able to commit to their current job, less oriented toward long-term professional goals, and are ultimately less adjusted psychologically.”


How to Practice Effective Leadership Across Generations

Workspaces require the employees to be loyal and dedicated to the company and prioritise maximum productivity. However, it is important to realise that this does not imply giving up our identities as persons or professionals. The best way to maintain the balance between the aforementioned factors is practicing ‘Servant Leadership’ because the growth of an organisation is reciprocal to the growth of its workforce. So, how do we practice servant leadership?

Servant leadership centers around empathy, active listening, and a commitment to the growth and well-being of team members. This approach becomes particularly vital when leading across different generations. Communication is one of the essentials for effective multigenerational leadership. Millennials value regular updates and open interaction, but Generation X prefers straight, concise communication. On the other hand, Generation Z appreciates rapid, brief interactions, which they frequently achieve through digital means such as instant messaging. A servant leader is aware of these subtleties and adjusts their communication accordingly. They may arrange regular check-ins with Millennials to provide direction and feedback while allowing Generation X team members to complete things independently. Providing a variety of communication mediums caters to various preferences, creating mutual understanding.

Consider a collaborative project that necessitates brainstorming. A servant leader would ensure all generations have an equal opportunity to contribute. For instance, a Generation X team member, like my father, might prefer a face-to-face meeting; whereas a Generation Z member like myself could feel more comfortable expressing ideas through a digital platform. By catering to their preferred communication methods, such as introducing a hybrid workplace meeting system, a servant leader can bridge potential gaps and encourage a collaborative environment.

Another way to practice servant leadership is by fostering learning and growth among the generations. Every generation has distinct aspirations for personal and professional growth. A servant leader identifies these varying needs and creates opportunities for growth. For instance, organising intergenerational mentorship programs can promptly address the needs of all generations. A Generation X employee can mentor a younger colleague using his experience while also learning from a tech-savvy Gen Z or Y member. This cross-generational exchange nurtures a culture of continuous learning and mutual respect.

A servant and worthy leader, be it Generation X, Y or Z, should always lead with the purpose of bringing the best out of the team by motivating them and acknowledging their contributions and individualities, which in turn will serve to the maximum productivity of the workspace. Providing professional independence, work-hour flexibility, promoting inclusivity, freedom of creativity, recognising the team members’ efforts, giving the scope to maintain work-life balance and ensuring a healthy work environment are the factors that will inspire the co-workers to be loyal, dedicated and committed. It is important to give every team member a sense of ownership of the team because, after all, no job is more important than the other in a workspace; there are just different obligations.

Author- Tasfia Tahiat Umme

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