Leadership e-Tip 2: Is There Really a Generation Gap?

Is There Really a Generation Gap?

Yes, the younger generation coming into the workforce today is different. They have little to no respect for authority; are not motivated by money; work to live rather than live to work; and see themselves as free agents rather than employees.

But research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) concludes that the “gap” is more myth than reality. In Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young and Old Can Find Common Ground, CCL’s Jennifer Deal argues that all generations have more values in common than those that are different. At the top of the list is family, which all generations value most.

Other values listed in the top ten by all generations include integrity, achievement, competence, happiness, self respect, and responsibility. So why do we hear so much about the younger generation not wanting to be responsible employees?

Everyone Wants Respect

The second area of commonality, that everyone wants to be respected, may shed some light on that misconception. How people want to be respected can be very different based on their age. Older employees often complain about younger employees not respecting their opinions, and some see respect as “doing what I say.”

Younger employees feel respected when they are listened to – when their ideas are valued. They don’t respect people just because they are older or more experienced. They respect people who earn their respect by showing them respect.

Principles for Working Across Generations

Source: Center for Creative Leadership – Adapted from the book, Retiring the Generation Gap

  1. All generations have similar values.
  2. Everyone wants respect.
  3. Trust matters.
  4. People want leaders who are credible and trustworthy.
  5. Organizational politics is a problem – no matter how old or young you are.
  6. No one really likes change.
  7. Loyalty depends on the context, not on the generation.
  8. It’s as easy to retain a young person as it is to retain an older one – if you do the right things.
  9. Everyone wants to learn – more than just about anything else.
  10. Almost everyone wants a coach.

Five Leadership Skills Are Needed

The ten principles described above tie in well with the five needs all employees have to become passionate about what they do. I have identified five skills leaders need to satisfy these employee needs, and to practice the principles for working across generations. They are:

  1. Use People Skills to build trust
  2. Help people learn and grow by using Coaching, Counseling and Mentoring skills
  3. Make everyone feel like an insider by Valuing Differences
  4. Make work meaningful for everyone by Aligning Team Roles with the organization’s Purpose and Core Values

Build High Performance Teams

These are Also Principles for Valuing Diversity

In fact the tenĀ principles for working across generations apply not just to generational differences, but to any kind of difference between people. People from all cultures, races, genders and sexual orientations value family, achievement and happiness; need to be respected; want leaders who are credible and trustworthy; and they want to learn and grow.

Focus on What We Have in Common

WYSIWYG, or what you see is what you get, has become a common term in the computer world, and it also applies to the generation gap. If you believe there is a big gap and focus on the differences, the gap will grow and you will find the younger generation much more difficult to relate to and manage.

If you focus on what we have in common – build trust, treat everyone with respect, eliminate unhealthy politics and help people develop their talents fully, everyone on your team will be an engaged committed employee, regardless of their age.

How would leaders of organizations that encourage “focusing on what you have in common” with all employees answer the following questions?

  1. Is your organization succeeding at the level you would like in today’s competitive market?
  2. Are your people able and ready to anticipate and adjust for tomorrow’s business changes?
  3. Are your employees at all levels excited and engaged in the work they do?
  4. Are you able to answer yes to all of the questions?

If not I encourage you to meet with me. I have been fortunate to serve many happy clients, and would enjoy being able to serve you and your organization some day.

Wishing you success in the days ahead.

Pinky McPherson