It's a tale as old as time.
"My generation is better than your generation."
"We've worked harder to get here."
"We learned from the mistakes of generations ahead of us."
"We believe know what resilience means."
"We have more technology and access to information to make better decisions."
And the list goes on and on and on...
As an Executive Leadership Coach and head of WeInspireWe, it is one of my commitments to stay on top of leadership trends so I regularly read market research reports and industry articles, attend webinars and trainings, and collect anecdotal data from clients, networking contacts and more, to support the growth of my team and our clients. The concept of generational gaps is not a new issue - but one that has become accelerated and more significant as we venture into this next chapter of post-global pandemic life, growth and development of Generation Z and Alpha employees, and especially with succession gaps as more and more Baby Boomers (and some Gen X'ers) are heading toward retirement. In addition, the speed at which new "generations" are identified has also increased in pace creating bigger and bigger gaps in understanding and approach between older and younger generations.
The common thread that I have observed across the generations is this: there is a disconnect in the ways we feel valued.
And that disconnect is what creates a gap in leadership - both in how we lead (ourselves and others) and how those around us lead (themselves and others).
The need to feel valued is an inherent human need and is identified in the fourth level (of five) of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. This level ties directly to self-esteem. If we do not feel valued, we do not feel respected, and therefore we do not feel a sense of self-worth. When these things are off, we will not create the best work, we will not engage fully, we will not care as deeply, and we certainly will not maintain loyalty to an organization.
"We all want the same thing. We are more alike than different. At our core, we are all part of one group, one tribe: It’s called humanity." - Joseph A. Shrand M.D., Professor of Psychology, Harvard
When we assume that other people have the identical need to feel valued like our need, or that they need to follow the same path as we do, there lies the disconnect. This kind of disconnect is a disconnect in the essential common bond that pulls us all together - that of the human connection. We will look at others around us as workers (or the work) rather than the human being who is doing and delivering the work, or we look at them without consideration of their unique situation and needs. That difference in perspective makes a significant impact in how we value (and express our value for) other people. If their only value is the work that they do or how they ladder up to our vision for them, then certainly we will not to justice in making them feel valued as a human being and the cycle continues, the gap of feeling valued widens, deepens, and creates a bigger issue, and so on.
So as leaders, how do you ensure that everyone on your team (including yourself) feel valued?
Understand what makes someone feel valued. Take time to truly get to know them (or yourself) to understand what intrinsic values they have. Know what motivates them and excites them, or what is a trigger or point of frustration. The more you know, the more you can lean into acknowledging and/or supporting that person's needs when and where appropriate. While leaders cannot always meet and have a deep relationship with everyone that falls into their remit, they can focus on direct reports, cross-functional partners, and others who they have regular interactions with. Consider who you are directly impacting and invest back into them too.
Make development a normal conversation. What are their short- and long-term goals? Where do they want to grow? Where do they need to grow? What resources do they need (e.g., classes, coaching, stretch assignments, etc.) The more you are able to open and have these as ongoing conversations, the more support and opportunity that you can give to your team member. The more that people feel invested in, the more valued they feel.
Celebrate the wins - all the wins. As a leader, you set the culture, you set the tone, you put the wheels in motion for how people feel - and how people behave. By recognizing their wins, no matter how big or how small, people will understand without question what value they are bringing to the table. While some might like recognition in a group, and others might appreciate it more in a one-to-one conversation, the need is still the same. Make sure people feel appreciated for the hard work that they do and not only will they feel better (and you will feel better) but you'll create a ripple effect of common behavior across the entire team. Rather than the focus on the work, the issues, the challenges, or the stress - this shifts perspective into a positive light impacting the culture, attitudes, commitments (and loyalty), creativity, productivity, and more.
Continue the value conversation with your actions. While talking and having open dialogue around what you appreciate about someone, recognizing them for doing a good job, offering constrictive feedback when there is room for growth...these are all necessary tools for leaders when navigating any team member, at any generational level. To continue to thrive as a leader and bridge that gap in value though, it is important to not only talk the talk, but to walk the walk as well. This may be even more important to ensure that someone feels valued - you have to demonstrate and lead by example.
While employees across the generations may behave differently, may want their careers to look different, may have different daily needs, etc...at the heart of it all, people just want to matter. Great leaders take the time to ensure people feel valued and in return will also feel valued themselves too.
To be a great leader, you must consider how to bridge the gaps on your team. You must remove any preconceived notions between the generations and focus on the individual and their value at the core of it all. Keep in mind that the more valued people feel, the greater their commitment, motivation, drive, and output too.
If you are ready to elevate your leadership game, WeInspireWe not only offers 1:1 Executive Leadership Coaching, but we also offer group coaching which is a great way to bring your team together to create that common understanding, express value, and ensure a growth mindset too. To learn more, please visit the Work With Us page or reach out to us directly for a free 1:1 consultation and strategic roadmap for your team.
Tami Chapek is the CEO, Founder and Head Coach at WeInspireWe. Tami believes in community and positive change and has dedicated her life to bringing these concepts together. By empowering one, we empower many - and she believes that answer starts within. Click here to book a free strategy session with Tami today.