I was still only very young (late 20s-early 30s) when I first became a senior executive and a company director. This meant at that time the only ‘generation gap’ I thought about was the one between me and all the older, more experienced people who were now my responsibility to lead. In other words, the generation gap was only in one direction: upwards.
When I started as an executive I had to figure out how to earn the respect of people who had been in the workplace far longer than me, something that I achieved by consistently demonstrating to them my respect for their experience and views. Nowadays, in my early fifties, the generation gap is no longer one directional. In fact, it is far more heavily weighted downwards and sideways, than upwards.
My leadership outcomes are now determined by how well I am able to influence people who are older, younger, or the same age as me. The funny thing is that while the generation gaps have changed, the leadership technique is exactly the same. To earn their respect, each generation must first believe that they are also respected for their views.
Given I am the leader and the buck ultimately stops with me, I know I have the luxury of being able to seek and consider the opinions of all of those people who are brave enough to share them with me. Knowing that your opinions carry weight and your input is appreciated makes a person of any generation become significantly more engaged and productive.
Each person brings a unique viewpoint to the table. Some bring endless enthusiasm; others bring confidence and certainty; others still like to challenge the status quo; some bring creativity and innovation; some bring caution; others prefer to analyse facts and figures.
The interesting thing is that the generation gap in itself is not a particularly key driver in determining the difference in thinking between individuals. What is true is that the mixture of these diverse inputs has allowed me to make more well informed and successful decisions than would be possible if I relied solely on my own point of view.
My secret to effective leadership of people who are of different generations to each other and to me, is to ask for, and then to listen to, each individual’s opinions before making decisions that will ultimately have an impact on us all.Showing respect and appreciation to each individual will ultimately close any cultural, personality, or generational gaps.
Naomi Ballantyne, founder and managing director, Partners Life.
You can read more of Naomi’s columns here.