Generational Leadership

Tomorrow is the start of three half day leadership workshops I’m leading in partnership with Oklahoma State University at the Oklahoma City Campus.  It’s called the Leadership Series.  My first four hour session covers the topic of Generational Leadership.  The sessions are on Tuesday mornings for the next three weeks.

Generational Leadership

Generations work differently, think differently, and act differently.  Let me just be upfront in saying that I detest generalizations.  It’s like saying the HR people aren’t any fun.  However, each generation is shaped by the events, trends, technology, and lifestyle norms they encountered each day.  And it makes sense that these commonalities would effect a group of individuals in similar ways.

Two years ago, I spoke with a human resources professor casually at a networking event.  We discussed the way in which HR was changing, and he told me that he was disillusioned with his current students.  They didn’t value his time, their education, or the curriculum that he was presenting.  The students spent time texting and surfing the internet on their computers and laptops, and if they were not able to attend a class, wanted to text him instead of pick up the phone.  (How dare they!)

And in our conversation, I suggested that the key to a good leader is not just the information, curriculum, or facts presented but how you engage your audience and inspire them.  These students (Known as Generation Y or Millenials) are our future HR professionals who are also the largest generational group to enter the workforce, 89 million strong.  This group is used to technology demanding their attention.  As children they multi-tasked completing homework assignments while traveling to their soccer practice by car while also listening to music.  This is the way in which they had learned, was considered acceptable behavior by their parents, and how their growing minds were programmed.

As a leader, this professor has two choices — to continue teaching and leading his students the same way or to change his methods to suit the audience.  The first option provides an already established outcome that we are aware.  Disengagement by the students, the instructor, and frustration by the professor.  The second is what I believe Generational Leadership is about.  By changing your approach to engage the students through different channels like the internet, video, and even texting messaging and you have their attention.  They learn best in the environment in which they are most comfortable with.  And at the moment in which you have their attention and interest, you are better able to discuss when them as a leader your communication preferences preferring a phone call versus text.  By establishing a line of communication that engages you audience, you are able to learn just as much about them as they learn from you.  A partnership is established where opinions are valued instead of rules bestowed.

That in my mind is Generational Leadership.  It’s a place where both parties flourish, where an old dog learns new tricks, and the different generations focus on the task at hand.

And if that professor left our conversation with any actionable nuggets is unclear, but I have a hunch if he did, it wasn’t much.  He asked me about halfway through the conversation how old in fact I was.  My answer surprised him.  I could tell by the look on his face.  “How old are you?”  I asked.  “I’ll tell you if you tell me first.”

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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  1. AvatarKara says

    I, too, dislike generalizations, but agree that different generations have different expectations and norms. In order to lead effectively, it is important to understand those, be open to a wide variety of learning styles, and be prepared to coach those who have not yet embraced workplace and learning environment changes. No matter which “gen” we fall into demographically, we all have to work together toward common goals. I look forward to reading about the outcomes of the workshop.

  2. AvatarJake Worcester says

    Love the post. Effective leadership is all about “meeting people where they are.”

    This topic is a constant in the leadership training we do – usually from 50-somethings complaining about “kids these days.” My response is two-fold: first, shut up because you made them this way – they’re your kids! Second (and more importantly and less sarcastically), leadership is all about connecting the dots for people. If you need to text or Tweet or Like your way into a connection with people, do it. Complaining about the “way it should be” won’t help you get anywhere.

    This newest generation in the workforce is loyal to people, not companies. We have to get with the program and build those relationships – through whatever mediums best reach them.

  3. AvatarAmanda says

    When it comes to college, I am a lifer. I can tell you that the dynamic is changing in the classrooms and in the workforce. I connect best with professors that are clear in their expectations and foster a collaborative environment in discussing what we were learn. The same goes in the workforce. It’s important for the older generations to remember that the younger generation brings a fresh new perspective in this age of technology. The younger generation needs to acknowledge the tried true experience and knowledge their elders offer. Mutual collaboration and respect needs to be fostered and with the age gap and previous biases that can be easier said than done. I look forward to reading more of the workshops’ outcome and suggestions. Wish I could have attended!

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