Last week when I was training managers to be more effective coaches, a young participant with a sheepish grin approached me very quietly. She pulled me into the hallway and wanted to know if she could discuss an issue she was facing regarding her team members. She whisked me into a corner and proceeded to share her frustration with being a younger supervisor with an entire team of Baby Boomers. She asked: “How can I gain their respect and coach them when there is not only an age difference, but a generational divide?” I turned to look at her and smiled. I knew she wanted to be an influential leader and coach. I knew she had the ability to connect with people. She just needed some coaching herself to find her inner confidence and strength. Here’s what we talked about:
- Learn what makes Baby Boomers tick: Each generation brings its own talents and strengths to the workplace. Baby Boomers have been working a long time and offer great institutional wisdom and political advice. They pride themselves in being workaholics- and major contributors to our teams. There is so much to learn from them. But how do we leverage their wealth of knowledge without feeling that they are taking control?
- Understand what makes Gen X tick: One of the most important strengths of Gen X is their desire to be self-reliant. When we feel that we can independently achieve outcomes ourselves, we sometimes miss out on collaborating with others. This was one challenge the younger manager had. On one hand she wanted to use her terrific ideas and suggestions but on the other hand she was not benefiting from the opinions of her seasoned team members. If she accepted the Boomers’ choices, she was worried she would look like a weak leader. The truth is just the opposite. By integrating her ideas with theirs, she was creating an even better solution. It was a win-win for everyone on the team.
- Believe you can be a great coach: Sometimes we can feel intimated when we are the youngest ones in the room. One way to feel more confident is by learning and practicing the skills of being a coach. Understanding our natural style of leading and working with others to develop rapport can really set us on a successful path. That’s just what the younger manager did. She learned how she typically interacts with her team members and thought about what their natural styles were. Self-awareness is a great way to see how we are coming across. With that self-knowledge we can begin to lead others in a more effective way.
- Just do it! Of course we all make mistakes, but hopefully we learn from them. Get to know your team members and what motivates them. Be open-minded and willing to seek wisdom from all ages and all generations in the workplace.
Are you a leader of a multi-generational team? How have you handled some of your generational differences? Are you able to see the gifts from each generation?