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Countless leadership articles tackle critical issues, from taking responsibility for one's mistakes to listening well. But few note, let alone account for one of today’s fastest-growing but unsung challenges in the workplace—managing employees across three different generations. Baby boomers, generation X, and millennials each have a significant presence in the workforce, and finding common ground among their divergent and at times incompatible worldviews demands successful leaders adopt a new type of multigenerational mindset.We all know the easy clichés about each demographic group, but the first step to building a multigenerational mindset is a closer review of relevant research. Just last fall, Ernst and Young found baby boomers strong in work ethic but weaker in adaptability; generation X showed high flexibility but a lack of leadership skills; millennials, also known as generation Y, topped out on energy and tech savvy but fell short on team and collaborative spirit.Other studies have revealed the philosophical and cultural forces driving each generation's respective strengths and weaknesses. These include core differences in learning and motivation styles, views of authority figures, and sense of work-life balance. A study by the Center for Creative Leadership surprisingly found that millennials are more likely than boomers and gen Xers to believe they should defer to their manager, and it also noted that older respondents were more concerned about participative, team-oriented, and humane leadership than gen Xers and millennials. All generations favored strong, charismatic leaders and nonhierarchical structures.Multigenerational leaders, therefore, must seek out flexible models to manage such complex workplace ecosystems. Take The Ken Blanchard Companies, where executives and other leaders—as well as aspirants to senior positions—must embrace the concept of servant leadership updated for the modern, digital era.These leaders must engage and nurture employees, and drive innovation, helping teams and individuals to reinvent business practices and generate new ideas for growth. This two-part approach lets leaders focus on each individual first, then how they will fit and thrive in a team melding baby boomers, gen Xers, and millennials.In order to become multigenerationally savvy, servant leaders must be prepared to abandon their comfort zone, an essential but daunting prospect. Early in my career, my highly technical background in network design engineering defined how I engaged with colleagues and clients. On sales calls, for example, I would propose technology-driven customer solutions, but when it came to business operations, I simply was not sure where to begin. It was painfully clear that I would have to change if I wished to lead, and lead across generations.After careful thought, I decided to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA), and it turned out to be the right choice. Those crucial two years taught me a deeper understanding of finance and markets—two key pillars to understanding business goals, whether at the company where I worked or for clients. My MBA was a true learning accelerator, putting me in a better position to see the big picture. With my degree and an awareness of the multigenerational workplace, I was now much better prepared to lead complex teams.Today’s leaders arguably face business challenges greater than ever before due to the combination of technological change and the multigenerational ecosystem. There are no simple answers or clear paths to success. Leaders and aspiring leaders must be servants first, traditional top-down executives last. They must embrace a flexible and adaptive persona to work with the divergent mindsets of baby boomers, gen Xers, and millennials, and they must understand how it all comes together, from finance to marketing to sales, in order to build the right teams.Leaders who do will inspire. They will build the dynamic, multigenerational organizations of the future. Leaders who fail to do so will be unable to connect with boomers, Xers, and millennials alike. They will be left shaking their heads, wondering where it all went wrong, when the answers were right in front of them. All they had to do was listen to the multigenerational voices around them.
Kaplan University cannot guarantee employment or career advancement. National long-term projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
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If you are considering a business degree we invite you to find out more about our School of Business and Information Technology and explore Kaplan University's undergraduate and graduate degree offerings.
It is important to note that certain career paths are growing and our degrees are designed to strengthen your knowledge and prepare our students to advance their careers. But Kaplan University cannot guarantee employment or career advancement. Several factors specific to a student's or alumni's backgrounds and actions, as well as economic and job conditions, affect employment. Also, keep in mind that national long-term projections covered in articles may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
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