Leadership through four generations

Did you realize we have four generations in our current workforce?

  1. The Silents, Born between 1925 and 1946
  2. Baby Boomers, Born between 1946 and 1964
  3. Gen-X, Born between 1965 and 1980
  4. Gen-Y also known as Millennials, born after 1980

What a diverse workforce!  The interaction between these generations is so interesting to me.  Each generation has a different values system, a preferred method of correspondence, and a different perspective on incentives.  As a leader not only do you have to consider personality type when leading your team, you should also be cognizant of the generational differences.  These differences are wonderful differences.  Greg Hammill (2005) has a really great chart on the differences that you could expect from each generation.

Throughout my MBA experience we had many assignments that were team based and virtual.  People asked me all the time, “how hard is that, or How do you even do that?”. My response until just recently was, I don’t know, but we just always seem to get it done. I wish my leadership classes would have been at the front end of my program or even spiraled throughout.  Not only that, I WISH I would have taken more in undergrad.  Understanding how each person communicates and respecting each others time was something that I instinctively did, now, I can’t say all teammates are so generous or thoughtful. Am I bragging?  Sorry…

I had one teammate in my last leadership class that didn’t communicate, at all and when he did it was always days after a decision had been made and everyone else had completed their task.  The irony was his Masters was in Management… I get the feeling that he was a Gen-Y and also completely miss placed his TPS reports because clearly he missed the boat on the entire purpose of the class and for that matter his Masters program.

In the last week of the class he posted in our team board, “Guys, I had 20 emails from all of you yesterday, can you stop emailing and place everything on the discussion board?” There were three important facts here, 1. the team, including him, had agreed upon using email as our main source of communication; 2. he had not participated in four weeks; and 3. I am not a “guy”, OK, that one is more for hilarity.  The biggest issue was how disrespectful he was to the entire team. I have always played team sports, I am very much a team centered person; I thrive in supporting the unit of a team or even leading one.  This comment… was out of line.  He sounded entitled and without merit.

As the leader for the team, I felt that it was my responsibility to the team to not cave to the whims of one individual when this line of communication had proven effective for the rest of the team members.  I do not buy into the “squeaky wheel” and all to often people buckle.  I think about how Steve Jobs operated, he would stare down people to get his way, and people would just cave. I like to think that I would have taken him head on, and toe to toe as worthy challenger.  I have learned a lot about myself reflecting back on how my leadership style changes from person to person; because truly each individual learns differently and communicates differently and when you add another layer of diversity, speaking of multiple generations, if you aren’t able to appeal to each of those classes how are you going to have an effective workforce?

What is your leadership style?  Have you thought about it?





American Management Association, (2007, January 27). Leading the four generations at work. Retrieved from http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/Leading-the-Four-Generations-at-Work.aspx

Hammill, Greg. (2005).  Mixing and Managing Four Generations of Employees. FDU Magazine Online, retrieved from www.fdu.edu


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