A generation’s perspective – the lens through which they view their world, define their values and identify their expectations for the future – is formed and polished by their collective life experience. This being the case, it is not surprising there is such a profound disconnect between the values of many established leaders and the expectations of those who follow in their footsteps.
This generational uniqueness is the topic of our time, the focus of water cooler conversations, management meetings and scholarly journals. Pick the “Gen” and there is a stereotype and associated theory of wants, needs and desires.

It’s not new that each generation has difficulty understanding the next. However, today, it’s often convenient to correlate these differences with the evolution of technology. While exposure to technology certainly has an impact, it is just one factor of many that impacts generational perspectives. The difference is more holistic; it is also influenced by geography, significant events, economics, social conditions and parenting.

I am a Boomer, a member of the duck-and-cover generation. In 1962, the year of my birth, I shared the planet with 1.9 billion people. I enjoyed four television channels on our state-of-the-art color television. A letter, a 5-cent stamp and a mailbox represented the primary form of remote communication. Grocery bags were paper, bottles, from soda to shampoo, were glass and telephones had a dial and a cord. Further, nature shows like Wild Kingdom filled me with excitement, making me feel like there was still an untamed world left to explore.

For the generations that followed, most digitally native, their experience has been vastly different, never having known life without a computer and hard-pressed to remember a time without a mobile/smart phone. Their communication frequently takes the form of a text, a tweet or a video call. Information is ubiquitous and distance is irrelevant. The world is no longer a hierarchy but a network, the population is 7.7 billion and the news is filled with topics like climate change, cyber bullying and school shootings. Not to mention the guilt associated with life in a plastic-saturated disposable society.

This life experience drives a more impassioned and urgent focus on the decisions, policies and ethics that impact their future, and therefore leaders themselves. Leadership has never been easy, but there was a time when it was less complicated. In the past, for many leaders, just being the caretaker of the status quo was their primary role. A stable and predictable work environment was enough to satisfy most of the troops and this approach saw many of those in charge through a successful career. Sure, a leader needed backbone, tenacity and creative problem-solving skills, but these were primarily to maintain consistent operations, to fend-off longstanding and familiar competitors, and to guard against the occasional rogue disruptor.

The pace of change was comparatively slow, whereas today, all aspects of life are relentlessly shifting, changing what is demanded of the modern leader. To be effective, today’s leader must not only be aware of industry and market changes, but also be able to view and comprehend these changes through the multifaceted lens of their organization’s diverse workforce. Because, depending on the workplace, their workforce could contain up to five generations – that’s five different perspectives with five different sets of expectations and values.

The ability to understand, to interpret and comprehend, the perspective of others has always been the foundation of good leadership. Today, it defines it.

Resource: FAQS on Generations

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Rick Thomas

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