One of the most cogent and current questions in modern business is “how will Millennials successfully lead Boomers?” Not that long ago, all the articles and studies were asking, “how can Boomers manage Millennials…” but that narrative has flipped. With more Boomers leaving the business world and huge numbers of Millennials taking leadership positions, the dynamic has become very real, and it needs to be addressed.
Because, truth is, these generations are different. Not in the cliché derogatory ways usually found on social media and on less intellectual websites, but in very true, fundamental ways. The generation gap is not just a talking point anymore. It’s something both cohorts will need to address, especially younger business leaders working with older workers.
One of the biggest knocks against younger leaders by older leaders is this idea that they think they know everything. While you may be more qualified and knowledgeable than your subordinates or employees that doesn’t mean you need to act that way. Be an active, engaged listener. Make it a point to learn from them while creating positive environments that encourage and reward cross-generational mentoring. Both groups can learn a lot from each other if we’re fair, open, and receptive.
Millennials can give Boomers something they never had (but should have) in the workplace, a sense of personal appreciation and value beyond the bottom line. For two generations in the workplace, the bottom line ruled all. The very name “human resources” is abhorrent to the standard Millennial mindset. These aren’t “resources” like coal or precious metal or cash flow. They are people, and they should be addressed as such. Sure, you need to get things done, meet deadlines and achieve goals … but do it by building relationships with the people that keep your machine of business humming. This takes time and investment, and it won’t happen overnight, but it will pay big dividends.
Learn what matters most to all the people on your team. What are their goals, their priorities? How can you help them achieve their goals while, together, you achieve the goals for the business? This conversation will lead to breaking the mold on How Things Are Done, but that’s generally a good thing. When your people are happier, they are more productive and efficient. When they are motivated positively, they can be more connected and creative. Sure, you can break out the proverbial whips if you want to … but there’s a reason those methods didn’t survive that last generation.
Figure out how to use everyone’s talents and perspective to create a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Don’t get stuck in a ‘my way or the highway’ mentality. This goes back to what we said earlier about learning how to listen. You need to listen well in order to understand fully. Some have termed this “leaning in,” based on the book by Nell Scovell and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, as a way to capture the idea of actively listening. John Maxwell Team leadership trainer Trish Buzzone takes this a step further, saying leaders are responsible for setting aside their personal biases and agendas to fully engage not with what people are saying, but who they are “being.”
In other words, focusing on understanding the meaning being conveyed behind the words. Understanding on that level is part intuition and part intention. Master it, and you will not only know your people better but also understand better how to connect with them and get the most out of every member of your team.
David Milberg is an experienced credit analyst in NYC. He is a long-time owner of Milberg Factors, a factoring and finance company with locations in New York, California, and North Carolina.