Millennials entered the workforce during a time of increased worker diversity, a trend influenced by globalization and the presence of more women and minorities, yet generational differences are often overlooked as a diversity factor.
Diversity and inclusion are topics getting extra attention in corporations today and there are many ways to consider what diversity means to an organization and how to be inclusive. One area that is often overlooked is generational diversity and how the mix of different generations in the workplace affects organizational behavior. This becomes even more important when we consider the leadership of the organization and how the different generational characteristics of these leaders can influence their leadership style.
Leaders from each generational group have certain preferences for how they want to be led by their organizational leaders and they have a leadership style characteristic of their generation that affects how they lead others.
For example, when asked how they want to be treated by their leaders, each group has shown a preference for how they want to be led:
Traditionalists prefer leaders who are direct, take charge, and make unilateral decisions,
Baby Boomers prefer leaders who are participatory, collegial, and consensual,
Generation Xers prefer leaders who challenge authority and demonstrate competence,
Millennials look for leaders to provide guidance and develop strong interpersonal relationships,
Generation Z prefers leaders who are instantaneous, loyal, and realistic.
When we look at the leadership styles of each of these generations, they exhibit some of the same traits:
Traditionalists – Traditional; autocratic; hierarchical; directive; command and control
Baby Boomers – Democratic, participative, consensus building; collegial
Generation X – Challenging; competence; informed decision-making; laissez-faire
Millennials – Collaborative; inclusive; innovative; rely on networking and information sharing
Generation Z – Entrepreneurial; lack boundaries.
By considering how these groups differ in what they look for in a leader and how they behave as leaders, it’s possible to see why there are often misunderstandings and even conflict over what is expected when these individuals from different generational groups work together. By understanding what others prefer and expect, it can be easier to bridge the gaps in leadership expectations.