When Your Priority Is Managing Individuals, Not The Generation

“I want to learn how to manage Baby Boomers.” 

A young lady once asked me this question at a class I taught in the past, called Leader-Language™: How to Communicate so Others Will Follow. SMU Continuing and Professional Education offered this class.

She asked this after I had posed the question to the participants:

“What do you hope to gain from participating in this class?”

As I went around the room, I got typical responses until I came to this young lady. Her response caught me totally off guard and gave me material for a blog post – probably several blog posts.

After a moment of panic as I frantically searched my memory to come up with what might have given her the idea that we would cover this topic. There was nothing about it in my class material. And there was nothing about it in the promotional materials for the class.

So, I calmly told her this was not something we would be covering directly. However, I promised her I would give her a tool to help manage people, regardless of their generation.

After we finished going around the room, I learned more about their diverse backgrounds. Six of the eight participants worked for family owned businesses and two worked for Fortune 500s. There were three men and five women. More importantly, there were two or three Millennials, two or three Gen Xs, and three Baby Boomers. We had diversity in generations, making it a fascinating day!

And because of this, I realized I was facing the same challenge that managers face daily across the U.S. and probably everywhere.


The Challenges of Managing A Diverse Workforce

The challenge is: how to successfully engage a very diverse workforce. Or in my case, it was a diverse group of class participants.

The young lady who asked the question has a birthdate that places her in the time period between Gen X and Gen Y (hence, a Millennial). And her question caused me to assess the issue of different generations in the workplace from a whole new perspective.

It was as if I had been viewing Niagara Falls from the U.S. banks of the river and was suddenly transported the Canadian side.

I hear and see a lot of questions from Baby Boomers about how to manage Millennials. Rarely if ever do I see anything to help Millennials understand how to manage Baby Boomers. Yet everyday there are thousands of Millennials tasked with just that responsibility. And the reality is, the number is increasing exponentially.


Who Are The Millennials?

Let’s take a look at who the Millennials really are.

Depending on the year you choose for the beginning of the millennial generation – the range is from 1977 to 1982 – the oldest Millennials will be turning 42 to 37 this year.

For simplicity sake, if we split the difference and use 1980 as the starting point for the generation, the oldest members of the millennial generation are eligible to run for President of the United States! Regardless of the starting point we use, the oldest Millennials are quickly approaching “middle age”.

From my perspective, many of the Millennials I have had the opportunity to interact with are goal-oriented, and have more focus and confidence than I ever had at their age. Sure I have encountered the irresponsible and entitled Millennial. I have also known Gen Xs and Baby Boomers who are the same, and I bet you have too.

I believe there is too much emphasis on how to manage and lead generations, and not enough on how to manage and lead individuals.


As Millennials’ Participation in the Workforce Increases

The reality is, there is great disparity between individuals within a generation. Even the societal forces that help shape a generation varied. Most generations span roughly 18-20 years. This implies that the oldest members of a generation were approaching 20 when the youngest members were born.

For example, the oldest Baby Boomers were 17 when Kennedy was assassinated, while the youngest were toddlers. My older Baby Boomer cousins remember doing “duck and cover” drills in preparation for a nuclear attack – something that as a younger Baby Boomer I never experienced. The oldest Boomers were in their early twenties during the turbulence of the late 1960s. Meanwhile, the youngest Boomers had not yet had their 10th birthday.

Again, using 1980 as the starting point for the millennial generation, the oldest Millennials were 21 on 9/11 while the youngest had not yet been born.

The younger sister of the class participant who wanted to know how to manage Baby Boomers was also in the class. Even though 12 years separate the two, by many timelines both are Millennials. I assure you, managing these two ladies using the same approach and style would result in total failure and misery for both the manager and the young women.


Why We Should Manage Individuals, Not Generations

Segmenting by generation may be helpful to marketers and politicians. However I believe it is much less relevant to managing and leading in the workplace.

If managing and leading generations is not the answer, then what is?

I have learned that we must adapt how we lead and manage based on individuals and not generations.

When it comes to the Millennials in particular, we must stop painting the whole generation with a broad brush. We must start recognizing the strengths of the individuals within the generation rather than applying generic weaknesses to an entire generation.

And we must start providing the mentoring and coaching they need to develop their managerial and leadership skills. They are already holding many of these positions. There are already Millennials serving in Congress. And it will only be a matter of time before there is a Millennial in the Oval Office.

For some great ideas and leadership tools to help, check out this recent blog.


Are you ready to start making the leadership of individuals a priority? Get in touch with me here, and we can discuss the timeless tools I have to share to accomplish this.

Image Attribution

Share With Your Colleagues
POSTED ON: Leadership
TAGGED : , , ,