By Sandra Wiley
As a leader, it is important to understand generational differences. However, we need to be careful not to make gross generalizations about individuals based on their age. When we do this, we elevate age over an individual’s more important attributes, when instead we should be developing new language as we discuss current and future leaders.
Below are examples of statements I’ve heard in my work.
- We need to move these baby boomers out of the organization.
- We need to contain the young people; they just don’t have the experience to know what they are talking about.
- These over-50s just don’t understand the model of the organization of the future.
- Gen X and Gen Y are out of touch with reality. They want all the money and don’t want to put in the work.
- Everyone in the older generation is a workaholic, and they don’t really care about anything except their job. They have no life.
- Younger workers have lots of education but no work ethic. They are just a bunch of kids who have an entitlement mentality.
I have heard every statement above as I’ve worked with clients or attended conferences. Although generalizations can have a thread of truth, with the majority of talented people I meet, every statement above is unequivocally wrong. I believe that individuals can be successful at any age. I challenge you to get rid of some words in your everyday language.
- Gen X
- Gen Y
- Baby boomer
There are plenty of additional age-related terms you could add, but we need to stop looking at people simply by their ages and start looking at the attributes that really count. You should be looking for the following characteristics in your team, and in your future and current leaders.
- A passion to learn. Learning is far more than continuing education. Many professions require continuing education, but the truly amazing people, and the ones you want to surround yourself with, are those who are self-learners. They read, absorb new ideas, talk to interesting people and share the things they learn with others around them.
- The ability to develop relationships. Watch the people in your sphere of influence. Those who are able to connect with others, either one on one or in a group, are extremely valuable. For example, most people who enter the accounting profession do so because they believe it is a numbers game. The reality is that once you build knowledge in the numbers, the ability to build relationships with clients, your team and influencers in your community can win the game for your organization.
- An innate desire to stay ahead of the trends. Leaders love to explore new and shiny things. They might not jump on every idea that comes along, but they have a hunger to explore and identify the ideas that will keep them ahead of their competitors and will bring the highest value to their clients.
- The capability to be a fearless decision maker. No matter what level a person is at in the organization, he or she has a certain level of ability to make decisions. It might be as simple as when a project is started, or what community event to attend to best develop a larger personal network. Leaders need to be independent and fearless about their decisions.
- An ability to know and use their strengths. Anyone who really knows themselves well and uses their natural strengths to their advantage will progress faster and be happier in their life. The sooner you quit trying to change yourself, the sooner you will grow in your career.
- Knowledge and use of their team’s strengths The other side of identifying and using your own strengths is that you can then surround yourself with team members – both at home and work – who will support and strengthen you because they have strengths that complement yours.
- A strong work ethic. Don’t confuse work ethic with number of hours. Work ethic means that you do what you say you will do. You complete the tasks that are assigned to you in a timely manner. You always look for the next item to ensure that you and your organization are growing and becoming better.
- The desire to teach and mentor others. Level 5 leaders are more interested in helping others than helping themselves. You are not a level 5 from the beginning of your career, but one attribute that all levels can aspire to is teaching and mentoring others. This is about caring and concern toward your peers.
Look for all of these traits as you hire, promote and build your organization. They have nothing to do with age and everything to do with building a team full of amazing individuals who will make a superb organization.