6 Rules for Leading a Multi-Generational Force

Leading a multi-generational workforce requires accepting that each generation has differences – different values, technology preferences, career goals, communication styles and work-life balance needs to name a few.

It can be challenging and leaders shouldn’t use generational labels to pre-define officers without first considering their unique characteristics. Leaders should instead use observed actions and personal research to determine the best way to create a harmonious multi-generational workforce.

To help, we’ve developed some rules to guide leaders to interact more effectively with those in all generations, and navigate a multi-generational workplace with ease. These rules lay the foundation for team members and leaders to come together and understand each other’s unique needs and preferences, no matter the contrasts.

1.    Remember, you are leading people

Leadership, by definition, involves people as the critical component and while we know that the mission or job is the most important part, understand that relationships and human connection are important too. A leader’s job is to build a professional relationship with their subordinates to create an environment that’s comfortable and one that fosters growth, productivity and accomplishment.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Strong leadership starts and ends with the relationships leaders build with their people. Leaders motivate and provide purpose and direction for their subordinates, and those that do so successfully establish solid connections with their people that transcend their mission.

2.    Assign tasks based on a person’s strengths

A leader must never forget that every member of their team holds unique skills and capabilities. This requires a leader to identify the specific strengths of each team member and assign tasks accordingly, and if you’re following rule number one and connecting with your subordinates, this should be easy to do.

When you hone in on individual’s strengths, the team as a whole becomes stronger, the environment becomes more balanced and the mission is accomplished every time. For team members that want to do more but lack the skillset, establish a mentoring/training program to raise the team member’s competency and bolster their self-worth. Invest in your team and provide educational and professional development opportunities to increase productivity and confidence – you won’t regret it.

3.    Be clear and consistent when communicating

Successful leadership requires consistent communication with team members and clearly defined expectations of responsibilities. Consider the individual’s unique communication style and ensure the purpose of the interaction is understood. Understand generational differences when it comes to communication. Millennials will more likely than not communicate differently than a Generation X-er or a Baby Boomer.

Create an environment where team members can feel free to speak up if instructions were not clear or they require additional guidance. Assign certain “open-door” hours throughout the day for team members to talk in your office, encourage a collaborative environment when the situation allows for it and advocate for as much communication as possible.

4.    Be honest and respectful

The effect of dishonesty on leadership cannot be overstated. Dishonesty undermines the mission and eliminates true “buy-in” from the team. Leaders need their workforce to trust what they say, believe in the mission and know that the work they perform is meaningful and appreciated. Think of a dishonest or untrustworthy leader you had in the past. Did you want to perform well for them? Did you care about what the mission was? Probably not.

Equally as important as honesty is delivering your message in a respectful way. Remember the golden rule – treat others as you’d like to be treated? This applies as a leader of a multi-generational workforce. There will inevitably be times when a leader is required to take corrective action and give reinstruction, as a result of dissatisfaction with a team member’s actions. When this occurs, ensure that the process is always honest, respectful and professional – not personal.

5.    Don’t mistake fear of the unknown for resistance

In today’s highly regulated and technologically advanced environments, your team will experience ongoing change in order to stay current and compliant. As your team goes through these changes, you may encounter certain members that appear to resist the enactment of new procedures, deployment of new technologies or the implementation of additional oversight.

In most cases, this resistance is the result of fear of the unknown. Successful leaders need to identify these members early in the process and include them in the planning and implementation stages to produce early buy-in and create advocates instead of eleventh-hour adversaries.

6.    Challenge and support everyone

Too many leaders believe the adage that 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. So many believe it, in fact, that it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s far easier to give work to the 20 percent who can get it done than it is to mentor and train the less capable to get it done. Unfortunately, this strategy of over-working the capable only drives them away and leaves the team with even less talented people to do the work. Meet with your underperforming team members and be honest and respectful while clearly outlining expectations. Provide the underperformers with guidance and support them through a mentorship program and you will find, in more cases than not, people will rise to the challenge.

Aim for improvements, rather than perfection in these instances. Focusing more on the small winds instead of the ideal situation will create a supportive environment while still remaining challenging. Recognize team members that are striving to become better each day.

Bottom line

Leaders are charged with leading people – not projects, tasks, assignments or events. The people are the ones who will complete each mission to the standard the leader establishes.  Keep in mind that each team member is unique and may require a specialized approach to communication and conflict. Each opportunity that presents itself will improve the foundation to build a successful future.  Above all else – be patient. Leading isn’t an easy job, but trust your instincts and know you’re doing the right thing.

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