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Every leader knows the team they lead is comprised of people who are different. There are personalities, backgrounds, and yes, generations to understand, motivate differently, and even discipline. The differences can be maddening, particularly if what you want is for them to just get on with it and do what you’ve asked of them. Add a stressful moment or behavior that triggers your impatience and suddenly, you become the leader who’s labeled difficult and feels frustrated. Whoa. Let’s prevent that from happening, first, in this area of generations. Let’s clarify what they are and what they need from their leader, and make leading multiple generations much easier to manage, so you can become a better leader of employees who span all ages.

The Generations in the Workplace

By 2020, there will be five generations working side by side. The names of these generations may differ, but the year of their birth is pretty consistent across multiple research outlets. Even so, keep in mind that generational labels, much like personality names, are oversimplifications that enable the start of a conversation. You’ll still need more data to be that better leader in these areas. But, as a foundation, the generations you now have the privilege of working with and leading, are:

  • The Traditionalists – born 1900 to 1945
  • The Boomers – born 1946- 1964
  • Gen X – born 1965-1976
  • Millennial – born 1977-1997
  • Gen Z or Gen 2020 – born after 1997

What motivates them and what are their differences is found in your Leader’s Guide to Leading Multiple Generations with Zero Frustration. Yet, even with these categories and markers, the questions now become what makes them different and why does that matter? How does growing up in a different era make one behave differently as an employee or leader? They are good questions and valid concerns. Certainly, the generation into which you or those you lead were born is not the only determining factor for behavior, but it does change the way you see the world, what you value, and the fears that you might run from or react to in the workplace.

Why Understanding Generations is Important

Leading people born in different times may seem simplistic or unnecessary, but here’s the reality. The year in which an employee was born changes his or her frame of reference. What was happening in the world at that time, the messages they grew up hearing over and over, and the lessons taught by their parents, all influence an employee’s behavior. These same events influence a leader’s expectations, assumptions, and threshold for what triggers frustration. So, when asking why you need an understanding of who was born when and what was going on for them, the answer is this: the more you understand an employee’s frame of reference, the better you’re able to effectively lead their direction. In other words, If you understand the path an employee is walking, you become a better guide of their future direction. In addition, generations play a significant role in behavior and causes many behaviors to happen at a non-conscious level. Being frustrated with a millennial because he demonstrates a laid-back style with no initiative and what appears to be apathy about your desire to please your boss, is a waste of energy. Millennial employees typically prefer challenges, a sense of purpose, and more life balance. If that happens to help the project, so be it. If your boss likes that outcome, great, but it is not the Millennial employee’s primary focus. Learning what IS their focus, is an important step for leadership. Modifying your approach or expectations, while taking into consideration what is important to those you have the privilege of leading is where the magic of leading multiple generations more effectively and with far less frustration…happens.

How to Make Leading Multiple Generations Easier

With the generational data and reason for valuing generational information in hand, it can start to feel like incorporating all of this into your day to day leadership is a bit unmanageable. It doesn’t have to be quite so overwhelming and one of the first keys to remember is each person is an individual. However, if you are Director with a thousand indirect reports, that too could increase the overwhelm. Leading multiple generations with zero frustration can actually be boiled down into three critical steps:

  • Focus on the individual value, with generational data only as part of their description
  • Align motivation and recognition methods with individual’s frame of reference
  • Base expectations and assumptions, not on your own frame of reference, but on the unifying mission, purpose, and goals, of the team

Still Frustrated?

Those three steps are certainly easier to share than put into action, but for leaders who desire a more positive response to their motivation, recognition, and engagement efforts, the work in these steps is invaluable. If you’re still frustrated, there may be expectations that this should be easier or that those you lead should simply understand your frame of reference. While tempting and in some ways easier, it is that mindset that will quickly limit the influence of your leadership and reduce what all you can accomplish through the collective effort of valued team members. Do the work and ditch the dangerous mindset. Your leadership depends on it.

Ready to Take the Become a Better Leader Challenge?

In each Monday Moment, the focus is on you becoming a better leader weekly. Before Monday of next week, complete your next Become a Better Leader Challenge, which includes your monthly eBook with a good bit more information on generations.

You’re on your way and you’re ready to become that better leader by Monday.

I’m Monica Wofford and that’s your Monday Moment. Have a great week and of course, stay Contagious!

 Monica Wofford, CSP develops leaders. CEO of Contagious Companies, her firm designs and delivers leadership training for those managers who’ve been promoted, but not prepared. Author of Contagious Leadership and Make Difficult People Disappear, Monica may be reached at www.ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWofford.com or by calling 1-866-382-0121.

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