Irish News Article

Intergenerational Leadership: Why has it become so important?

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I was catching up recently with Dr Arlene Egan, CEO of Roffey Park, to reflect on what was new and challenging in the world of leadership and organisation development.  Which subsequently led to the discussion on the importance of intergenerational leadership.

There are at least five generations among today’s workforce, the silent generation, baby boomers, generation-x, millennials and generation-z, each bringing different perspectives and expectations to the workplace. The current challenge is for organisations to create a work environment that appeals to all five generations.

There are existing socio-political factors and preconceived stereotypes that precede each generation which can lead to turmoil in the workplace through intergenerational conflict. Although a theoretical simplification through stereotyping, generational labelling has merit in the fact that we are all now impacted by the same socio-political, economic and environmental aspects of current times.

It takes strategic leadership to bridge generational gaps and thus the need for intergenerational leadership has become paramount. Leaders must aim to unite a multigenerational workforce through proactive strategies and effective communication to leverage increased motivation and innovation among their teams.

The idea that only senior employees can be managers is becoming obsolete in today’s workplace, as younger employees are rising to leadership roles, often mentoring people older than them – we are already piloting a ‘reverse mentoring’ programme in Grant Thornton for our most senior leaders, with great feedback to date!

Meaningful engagement between leaders across generations is the essence of intergenerational leadership; we identify the opportunity to collaborate and partner with each other while being cognisant of our differences. Leaders who can manage across four or five generations while retaining the knowledge, experience and wisdom of elder employees will create an environment where  innovation can thrive, as well as develop a resilient organisation.

Resentment rises and trust wanes among teams when employees from various generations dismiss one another’s efforts as being either primitive or outdated. Leaders can facilitate respectful discussion and reframe generational differences as opportunities for group learning. They can prevent herd mentality by fostering psychological safety in work settings where people can feel comfortable expressing differing opinions, fresh ideas and viewpoints without judgement. Psychological safety is key to having high performing teams.

Without conflict-resolution training and a leader who can contribute to a psychologically safe environment, members of a team are likely to clash. Rather than having five different management styles, focus on developing excellent communication and ask your employees about their expectations, priorities and requirements for success.

It may seem wide-eyed to expect that multigenerational employees will always work in harmony, but with intergenerational leadership, leaders can build a psychologically safe environment that unites employees through the organisation’s values to push the organisation to new heights of success.

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