New generations of leaders are bringing different concerns to the workplace. They value work-life harmony and workplace well-being over pay, pension and benefits. Demystifying the myths of each generation and understanding their values will help communication and understanding in both personal and professional relationships and reduce intergenerational conflict. Leaders who understand and can effectively navigate these generational differences will add an essential skill to their leadership toolbox.

This was the focus of our “Navigating Generational Leadership” workshop for the Sarasota Women’s Alliance. Our panelists – Susan Bowie, William G. & Marie Selby Foundation President and CEO; Lauren Hughey, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium Senior Major Gifts Officer; Anita Eldridge, Retired SVP of Finance & Administration at Sarasota-Manatee Airport and Christine Johnson, Conservation Foundation of Gulf Coast President — highlighted specific dimensions of intergenerational leadership they have faced in their workplace, and offered guidance to other leaders navigating through similar situations.

Panelists emphasized the need to think about the intentions behind communications and to establish trust enough to know that your colleagues have good intentions, despite how they might be presented. Words, however, still matter. For example, when a donor says thank you, the intent behind the response “no problem” maybe “it’s okay, it was easy” which could come across as “whatever” to the donor.

In another example, a GenX leader who described her generation as the most independent generation has a ‘get it done’ approach to leadership. Her younger colleagues were direct and open with her, explaining that they wanted to be a part of the process, to understand so they could make better decisions. So now this leader says, “I’d like it done this way because __.”

Open communication and a bit of adaptation make all of these workplace situations work.

Vulnerability and Trust
Where many Boomer leaders were raised to show they were tough, resulting in a ‘fake it until you make it’ style at work, Millennial leaders often demonstrate vulnerability which is important for eliciting trust and building authentic relationships.

Many organizations are facing an aging workforce, at the same time, they are struggling to hire. One organization addressed both challenges with flexibility. They paired new employees with employees nearing retirement to ensure a smooth transition. Both generations learned from each other, and the employer prevented a potential HR crisis.

On the flip side, a Millennial leader, a self-proclaimed digital native, joined an organization with somewhat dated technology. Their process of going digital was challenging, but they were agile and reached out to talent versus a title with great success.

Panel facilitator and Stilettos & Sneakers President Janice Zarro concluded the workshop with a discussion about generation-specific sayings that have made their way into our workforce dictionaries. Here are two of the responses. Do you have any to add? We’d love to hear from you.

  • Act your wage = Don’t do more than what you are paid for
  • I think I’ll get a lazy girl job = 9 – 5, working from home or with an easy manager