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Success Across the Generations: How to Ensure You are a Great Leader

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article titled Bridging Generational Leadership Gaps which was an analysis on commonalities across the generations. The connection to feeling heard, seen, part of the team, worth it, etc. is not just an intrinsic need, but one that bridges across all generations. We all need to feel valued to be the best possible versions of ourselves. While we can certainly feed our own confidence and self-worth, that external need to feel valued is critical for healthy relationships with our work, our colleagues, our leaders, and more.

The need to feel valued is our common bond.

However, that's not the "hard stop" answer to how to be a great leader across the generations. It's the cost of entry.

I love this Instagram post by Britt Andreatta, PhD, who is an internationally recognized thought leader in the space of neuroscience in the workplace. Britt dissects "meaningful work" across the generations and calls out what motivates and drives individuals to be successful and connected to the work that they do, day in and day out.

Image of 5 generations with definitions of meaningful work for each
How Different Generations Define Meaningful Work by Britt Andreatta

This chart is a powerful resource that just scratches the surface in creating an understanding of what matters most to the individuals on your team. But by understanding this, it will help you to not only support the people around you in their daily responsibilities and goals, but will help you to tap into their motivations leveling up their energy and commitment to the work at hand.

These data points are not just effective for leading at work, but effective in every relationship that you have in your life. Leadership is not just a work thing, but more so is the act of moving self and others forward which happens all day, every day. By understanding these core drivers and motivators, you can support engagement and success everywhere you go.

Let's dig into this a little further and consider how this information impacts our ability to lead:

For leaders who are Baby Boomers*

If you fall into this category, you are likely motivated not just by setting goals but by seeing them come to fruition. The sense of achievement from the work you do and the work your team does are powerful motivators. The ability to say "done" and "atta boy (or atta girl)" gives you all the good feels to keep on keepin' on.

However you are probably interacting across at least 2, if not 3 of the generations, and likely not many that are your same generation any more. Here's where the nuances come in.

  • Gen X'ers appreciate goals the same way you do, but balance the work with relationships and more importantly want to see balance in the rest of their lives. While results are important, it's not the most important thing.

  • Millennials love supporting others like you do, but they are focused on people and relationships the most and believe that the rest will follow (including results)

  • Gen Z'ers align with you on supporting others and results too, but the results that they want to see are not "check the box" results, they are "change the world" results. Their connection to the bigger picture is their main focus.

For leaders who are Gen X'ers*

If you are a Gen X'er, you've followed in the hard earned footsteps of the Baby Boomers and have seen (and appreciated) the fruits of their labor. You have also seen rapid changes in the workforce, technology, and leadership principles. You are a hard worker but don't want to burn yourself out like the generation before you so you work hard to find balance between work and the rest of your life. You feel comfortable setting personal goals that might not fully align with your employer, and are OK with walking away vs putting up with it (Baby Boomers) or creating bigger change (Gen Z).

Same as the Baby Boomers, you are likely engaging across 2 or 3 generations now and have some differences to explore as well:

  • Baby Boomers appreciate hard work and define their success through achievement and results. They are less connected to their personal needs and don't always understand the need for change.

  • Millennials appreciate taking care of themselves like you do, but they feel highly valued and rewarded when they are able to invest in people, help people, and ensure other people grow and succeed. That might come off as lack of focus on their own growth and development (or goal achievement) but they see the support for others as the best way to help everyone achieve, not just themselves.

  • Gen Z'ers appreciate care for themselves and balance like you do, as long as it aligns to their core values which are typically tied to some larger cause or something far bigger than themselves. They will contribute and drive for results that align to their purpose and those bigger values and don't understand the need for mundane tasks or "climbing the ladder" the way the you and Baby Boomers do.

For leaders who are Millennials*

Millennial leaders have taken a bit of a beating in the workforce because of their drastic differences from Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers. Millenial leaders are motivated by interpersonal, healthy relationships and in their ability to directly see how what they do can make life better for someone else around them. Giving back and serving others is a strong gift.

As a millennial, you are likely influencing across 1 or 2 generations.

  • Gen X'ers are like you in that they appreciate the people and ensuring a nice, caring work environment, but they want to see achievement of their personal goals more than seeing others achieve their personal goals like you do.

  • Gen Z'ers find great value in serving others similar to you, but feel the need to take that to the next level to create global change (not just for the individual in front of them). They are aligned to not just seeing lives improved in front of them, but in knowing that what they do will matter for generations to come.

For leaders who are Gen Z'ers*

Oftentimes, we hear people say that "Gen Z'ers will save us all" and there is some truth to that. As you know, this generation of leaders is perfectly comfortable with breaking norms, driving for big change, and ensuring that what you do matters more for the future and for today. You are not afraid to push the envelope and pull others along with you, and if they don't feel successful in accomplishing this, you will move on quickly to find a place that will change along with you.

As a Gen Z'er, you are likely engaging across 1 or 2 generations:

  • Gen X'ers have a greater focus on balance all while achieving personal goals whereas you typically have a broader lens.

  • Millennials appreciate and are motivated by serving others and seeing others happy. They appreciate the drive for betterment, but tend to focus it in on what will make themselves the happiest and best versions of themselves vs the world like you do.

*Note: please know that these are broad generalizations and everyone is different

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader - by John Quincy Adams
Leadership Quote by John Quincy Adams

This matters because leadership matters

As a leader (whether it's an official title or not), you are responsible for moving yourself and others forward. To do this successfully, especially across all of the generations, you must take the time to understand the people around you. The more you know, the better you will understand who they are, what makes them tick, what motivates and inspires them, and certainly what is a trigger for them. You will better understand their goals (whether just for themselves or for others too) and you will also understand what will result in an exit from your relationship.

Knowledge is power and the more you are able to tap into that understanding and shift your approach to support the intrinsic values for everyone around you, the better everyone will be for it.

But, how do I lead when my team spans generations and aren't alike?

At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong answer in your leadership across your team, especially when there are different generations and differing motivators and values. As a leader, you will need to strike a balance between the individuals, the group culture, the situation or task at hand, and certainly any other environmental factors. This is certainly where the art of leadership comes into play. And because there is no "right" answer, you will likely have times of trial and error to figure it out. Try to appreciate the differences between the team members (and the commonalities) and use that information as the basis to how you make decisions on your approach and leadership style in all situations. As you are figuring it out, be honest, be vulnerable, and most important, reinforce the basic human need that everyone has - to feel valued.

To level up your leadership skills - for leading yourself and others - WeInspireWe is here for you. Click here to book a FREE laser coaching and strategy session with any one of our highly skilled coaches to dig into how to be the best leader you can be.

Woman with short dark brown hair, wearing a blue shirt with black blazer and black pants, sitting in a chair smiling
Tami Chapek, CEO, Founder, and Head Coach at WeInspireWe

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.


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