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The Generational Gap – Making It Work!

Over the last two weeks, we’ve been talking about the Generational Gap in the workplace and the differences that can put us at odds.  Every one of us comes at life from our own unique perspective constructed from our life experiences, belief systems and upbringing, and this is starkly evident in our current workplaces.  For the first time in history, we have 5 generations working together, and this can create a difficult dynamic if we focus on our differences rather than our strengths.

However, if we’re prepared to see the opportunity that lies before us to develop a Powerhouse Team, then our generational diversity can be what drives us forward ahead of those who struggle to embrace their differences and the current rate of change.

Today, let’s look at ways to make it work!

Managing Millennials

In an article entitled “5 Strategies for Gen X to Work Effectively with Millennials“, Founder of Forward, Caroline Stokes suggests that the disconnect between Gen X and Millennials is hindering Gen X’s ability to lead.  Whilst Gen X have all the qualities currently needed for strong leadership (resilience, adaptability, agility and an “get stuff done” attitude), they may need to adjust their focus from getting along with Baby Boomers, to embracing and incorporating their Millennial teams into the workplace.  She states “The emerging culture is about connectivity, collaboration, sharing and innovation.  It requires a work environment that allows people to be human and flawed.” – and that goes for everyone.

In her brilliantly worded article, Caroline suggests 5 strategies to help Gen Xers become more effective managers.  Gen X leadership coupled with Millennial team players should be the perfect recipe to the speed of today’s environment – IF leadership can help to facilitate the use of everyone’s strengths to cover each other’s weaknesses.  Read it here.

Being An Effective Millennial Team Player

Raised in an environment that has demanded flexibility and adaptability from them, Millennials are great at considering new solutions to old problems.  They may not have a fully-fledged plan that covers things from end to end, but combined with the bigger picture perspective of Gen X, this recipe can put your team streets ahead.  When allowed to buckle down and work hard in their own way whilst till leaving work on time to create their own work/life balance, Millennials can be hugely effective energy additions to any team.

As a generation, one of their weaknesses is being able to express themselves effectively in a collaborative team environment when that team is led by someone expecting less collaboration and more action.  Millennials are just growing into their communication skills and can use the leadership and encouragement of open-minded Gen Xers to help them develop this are.  Relatively new to the scene, Millennials also lack the perspective to understand fully what’s come before them at the same time as having more access than ever before to examples of diverse leadership such as Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg, Tony Hsieh and Jeff Bezos.

Consequently, their expectations about how their leaders will lead them have never been higher and their quest for forward momentum, improvement and impact may make them insensitive to exactly what their current leaders have learned and weathered to achieve what is already in place.  If Millennials can gain perspective on the journey already travelled by their leadership, they can understand how to more effectively and respectfully present their own ideas into that mix.

When Millennials speak the language of their leaders by stepping up to the plate and asking “what can I do and how can I do it better”, they activate the openness of those leaders to be more receptive to new conversations.  By showing that they’re all in, team players create trust with in the team.  That trust opens up the space for better discussions and those discussions create space to admit flaws, and ask for mentorship and growth opportunities.

The idea that we’ll all stay in the same job until retirement disappeared a while back, and Millennials are looking for how they can help to build and develop something NOW.  Being allowed to contribute to the effective growth and change of a team, it’s systems and processes and the development of a business, Millennials are a creative dynamo like none before.

What Millennials haven’t had time to develop and hone yet is the emotional maturity to know how to speak to their Gen X leaders in a language that they understand.  If Millennials can speak to the needs of their leadership – leadership who need to see strong, willing, involved and reliable team players – then leadership may be more inclined to listen to new suggestions about how to do things in new ways.  Create the relationship first.  Build the trust.  Admit weaknesses and ask for mentorship.  Make use of the balance that the diverse generations offers and get stuck in!  Remember that the leaders of today worked their way up there and have helped to build the walls of the businesses you work in with the resilience that protected them from change.  Supporting that resilience will create space to breath and talk.

Millennials have a unique ability to deal with change at a faster rate than any previous generation.  Change that their leadership have strategised for years to protect themselves against.  When Millennials show up as the strong, determined and agile team players that they are, they provide their Gen X leaders with the perfect solution to the ever-increasing pace of development in the modern world.  With a little sensitivity from both sides, Gen X leadership and Millennial team players are the ultimate solution to today’s problems.

The emotional maturity and Big Picture experience of the Gen X leaders, coupled with the ingenuity and idea-oriented approach of the Millennials is a recipe for a Powerhouse Team able to vault itself ahead into the promise of the next decade.  Let’s learn to communicate and appreciate what we all bring to the table as well as the parts of ourselves that may hold us back, and let’s allow each other to cover those weaknesses for our team mates.

by Christen Killick

November 4th, 2019

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