It’s questionable whether a younger age has been set for Gen Z yet but it’s likely around 2016 which means Gen Z is currently 4 to 24. Most of them are still in those value-defining years with a good many years to go so there may be more defining moments on the horizon. However, there’s no denying that Gen Z will be influenced by polarizing politics and the pandemic. And it’s interesting to note that Gen Z doesn’t remember some of the recent defining moments in our recent history, 9/11 or the 2008 recession.
The reason I mention these things is that the shared experiences of generational cohorts shape feelings that become shared values. Different generations often express their values in different ways which can lead to conflict between age groups.
Baby Boomers tend to work hard, have patience, and value soft skills.
Generation X looks for openness, respect for diversity, curiosity, and practicality.
Millennials expect flexibility, mobility, creativity and have a broader more superficial knowledge than previous generations. They are success orientated and expect freedom of information.
Generation Z is known to live for the present and react rapidly. They are initiators and they have immediate information access and content search.
In some cases values themselves may not have changed but the way of exhibiting these values may have changed. For example, family can be important to workers of all ages. Older workers care about their families and the way they show this is to work hard to provide for them. Younger workers prefer to work fewer hours, spending more time with them to show how much their family means to them. These different ways of viewing the same value, family, can cause conflict at work.
Although there are some identifiable differences in leadership styles across different generations in the workplace today, there are some common themes across leaders of all these generations. It is well documented that leaders are expected to be honest, trustworthy, and have integrity, however, even these concepts may have different interpretations by different generations.
When we look at honesty, research shows that all leaders think honesty is important and rank it in the top five leadership traits but not all list it in the same position in the top five.
And closely related to honesty is trust. Leaders want to be trusted and individuals want to trust their leaders but depending on where they are in the generational cohorts, they may place a different emphasis on trust. For example, to traditionalists trust means allegiance to the organization or trust in the company to do the right thing. Baby Boomers trust others to accomplish the goals together. They believe in teamwork. Gen X is always questioning, deciding who to trust, and challenging the status quo. Millennials put their trust in relationships. They are looking for transparency and working together for the greater good. As for Gen Z, there isn’t as much data on this group, but it appears their trust is knowledge-based. They trust in the people and organizations they have the most information about and familiarity with.
And then when thinking of why people see leadership differently, it ties back to all the different perspectives but in a simple word, it helps to remember what is the key to each generation in leadership. A driving force for each generation and their leadership style is the following:
Traditionalists – hierarchy
Baby Boomers – consensus
Generation X – competence
Millennials – guidance
Generation Z – lack of boundaries, instantaneous
Understanding how each group views leadership differently can help us understand why we have different perspectives on how to lead which can lead to misunderstandings, and even conflict.