Manila, 3 April 2019 — When you understand change, you will not make mistakes. That is how the wisdom of Confucius can help us with cross-generational leadership today.
By 2025, three out of four people in the workforce will be Millennials (Gen Y). That is only five years and a bit from now. Yet, when we look around us today, we still see a majority of companies, organizations, and government agencies failing to embrace and use this rapid change in workforce diversity.
Without dramatic improvements in cross-generational leadership, we can expect to see further losses of valuable young talent and continued uncertainty over succession and even the corporate survival of organizations we regard as icons in our societies.
For businesses and organizations to thrive in the 21st century, it will require that leaders from all ages and levels get to together to change how work is done, innovation is achieved, and culture is changed to facilitate success and sustainability.
So what is cross-generational leadership all about, and how can you facilitate it to happen in your workplace? Bridging the divide that is so painfully apparent in many organizations today will start with finding new ways to communicate, creating more dialogues, and deciding to be open to learn (and unlearn) from each other.
This is difficult for both sides: for the emerging leaders (Millennials) as well as for the executives and managers (Boomers and Gen Xers). On balance, it is probably harder for the executives, who have achieved much of their earlier career and corporate successes with paradigms that look increasingly outdated in the world of today.
Millennials, on their side, have much to learn from the vast knowledge and experience of the executives, and they prefer to do that learning as much as possible by being mentored and coached.
Most executives, on the other hand, still lack coaching and mentoring skills and have grown into experts by giving instructions—often referred to as telling, yelling, and selling— and by surviving hierarchy and rules and sticking to targets.
In effective cross-generational leadership, changes will need to be made to the current patterns of communication. Change is never easy, so we need to learn how to overcome resistance. That’s where leaders of all ages have their work cut out for them, and the best way to start is to work that out together.
Put in simple terms, communication in businesses, organizations, and government agencies needs to change from one-way to two-way traffic between the generations.
Long ago, Confucius famously remarked that “If I understand change, I shall make no great mistake in life.”
The first challenge, then, is to make sure that we understand the critical need for change our workplaces today, from one-way into two-way communication.
Starting Point: The Executives
Enter Lai Wan Chung, a coach, human resources specialist and the founder of the MasterCoach App, who advises that “the starting point could be with the executives—helping them shift from telling to coaching alone would help a lot as Millennials favor the collaborative 2-way approach that coaching promotes.”
Creating space for dialogues in the workplace between the leaders from different generations is also important, adds Vanh Mixap, a coach, Millennial and the founder of Yes Everyone Matters. In her experience, “having seniors and executives who are willing to echo the points that younger ones raise during the meeting is very empowering.”
She goes on to recommend that executives make it a habit to invite emerging leaders to join their meetings and events at every available opportunity.
Lai Wan Chung, likewise, sees great benefits in “more dialogue and awareness between GenX managers and millennials on generational differences and preferences.” And, not surprisingly, both coaches agree wholeheartedly that efforts to build cross-generational leadership should harness the power of questions.
Explains Lai Wan Chung, “The one who asks, influences the conversation. Encouraging millennials to ask good questions upwards can be a quick-win to influence the conversation and decisions.”
Challenges and opportunities like these, to build collaboration and cross-generational leadership, were the focus of discussions I had last week during a meeting organized by The Water Agency and the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar.
In that meeting, leaders from across the generational divide readily agreed that introducing a mindset to encourage two-way communication and respect in the workplace is a key to success in the ongoing transformation of the water sector in Myanmar.
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