Chapter Corner

Leading Thrugh Generational Differences

Posted in: Features, March 2014

With exponentially exploding technology, individuals prolonging retirement, and the melding of generations, leaders today face a variety of challenges. Differences in cultures, values, genders, and educational experiences form a wide divergence between traditionalists and Generation Y. A majority of traditionalists have retired or are in the process of retiring; Baby Boomers are continuing to work; and Generation Y is entering the workforce. Due to these various factors, leaders are facing challenges that have never been faced. Skills vary from the top-level management throughout the organization’s structure and to the customer.

Generations, in the past, have carried similarities but the traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y have vastly significant differences and may not share viewpoints regarding technology, communication, and world views. By examining these differences, one can see why these differences are so important to the leaders and the growth of companies.

The Times Change

Technological advancement seems to be at the forefront of these differences. When one considers the fact that the traditionalists listened to the radio, the Baby Boomers experienced television, Generation X grew up with the computer and cell phone, and Generation Y uses the internet and texting, you start to gain an understanding of the challenges facing leaders. Technology has morphed communication 180 degrees from listening to the radio to “Skype-ing” on a computer.

The power of history on a generation should not be overlooked. Whether it was on U.S. soil or worldwide, different generational groups experienced the effects of the Great Depression, World Wars I & II, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and 9/11. These events helped define the generational ideas of how the workplace should be defined.

As an emerging leader, one has the advantage of all available information regarding each generation’s valuable contributions—it is there for the taking from the internet, the library, conferences, or mentoring. Now the challenge becomes how to best use the information for leading the company forward.

Step 1: Understand Yourself as a Leader

Only by understanding who you are and how you fit within the organization’s value system and work relationships of generational differences within the company can you gain respected leadership. After that respected position is established, you can lead the company to greater profits and longevity. So the question becomes: “Who am I?”

Step 2: Understand Your Audience

An effective leader must understand the audience. What does that mean? Ask what generational group(s) your employees represent. What about your clients? As time goes on, the employees as well as the clients will shift from one generational group to another. A leader has to be aware of these changes and foresee different approaches to both groups.

Step 3: Understand Your Company Mission

With so many businesses “passing the torch,” employees and clients will question new leadership and company focus. An effective leader cannot be offended but must question if the company’s mission is still the same or if it should be changed to meet continued success. A leader has to ascertain whether to move quickly or slowly, but more than anything else, a leader must instill trust within the employees and the clients.

Step 4: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

A successful leader embraces, lives, and breathes the word “communicate.” With generational differences, communication must come in a variety of ways. Whether it’s a written letter, an e-mail, a phone call, a face-to-face meeting, a video conference, or various other avenues of communication, the important point is to be in constant communication. The lack of communication causes a break in a relationship and then the relationship slowly dies. Therefore, too much emphasis cannot be placed on the facts to communicate regularly, provide clear understanding, and always be willing to receive feedback.

Step 5: Listen

The highest form of communication is listening! Never underestimate the importance of being a great listener. Even though an effective leader is able to fulfill all the four above steps, that leader can always learn from someone else. Don’t disregard sound ideas and advice—one never reaches the point of knowing everything! Listening and learning is a lifelong process.

With all the information and knowledge at your fingertips, there is no excuse to not take advantage of every available opportunity to become that effective leader that will carry the company to unimaginable heights.

J. Zane Smith is a founding Partner and Senior Vice President of Beneco, an IEC Bronze Industry Partner. Beneco is a nationwide leader in providing solutions for contractors throughout the United States who perform projects that are subject to municipal, city, and state prevailing wage laws and the federal Davis-Bacon and Service Contract Acts regulations and requirements. The Beneco bona fide plans save clients millions of dollars in labor burden costs.