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  • Writer's pictureJenn Donahue

How Millennials Can Lead Older Generations Successfully

Are you a millennial rising into a leadership role or position? If so, have you begun to understand how you can help bridge the generational gap to create a better workplace culture?

By 2025, Millennials are going to be 75% of the workforce. As millennials take over the workforce, the rising generation will be filling leadership roles and positions and this presents some challenges to generations across the board in terms of leadership styles, communication, and overall cultural changes in the workplace.

It is starting to matter less and less how seasoned you are and more and more about what you bring to the table. This means you may have a more senior person being led by a younger employee and that can be an uncomfortable situation to navigate without the right tools.

It’s important that older generations aren’t the only ones meeting millennials in the middle and that millennials also do their part to find common ground.

And the good news is, us Gen-Xers and millennials have a lot in common! There may be some key differences in what we prioritize, but with a little extra effort, you can help build a bridge across the generational divide.

As a Gen-Xer that loves working with millennials, I’ve found that these three tips are great tools rising millennial leaders can apply to help all generations work better together.

1. Ask your team questions

If you are a millennial and you have to lead Boomers and Gen-Xers, one of the best ways to begin building the bridge is to start by asking questions.

Asking questions helps you to understand the boundaries that the person already has set and you can then try to work towards the middle ground where you can communicate between yourselves.

For example, asking a question like, “what was your favorite (or least favorite) thing about working from home during the pandemic?” opens up the floor for conversation that helps everyone to understand their preferred work styles.

The older generations may miss the camaraderie or even the corporate culture of the office, while the millennials may have really enjoyed being home with their kids or pets and not tied to being physically in the office.

If you have ideas you want to brainstorm, you can ask things like, “Hey, has this been done before?” Or “Hey, do you know why this failed and do you have ideas to make it better?”

If you have ideas or want to gain insight, don’t be afraid to ask those questions and involve your team in problem-solving. Asking questions to understand each other and what motivates us is key to building relationships that help bridge the gap between generations.

2. Get to know your team

If you are in a leadership role it is important to get to know your team regardless of your generation, but this can be especially hard for millennials trying to get to know an older team.

It may feel uncomfortable or uneasy to find relational overlaps in your personal or professional lives, but even the vulnerable act of trying can build trust and respect with your team.

Us Gen-Xers (and especially the Baby Boomers) are pretty steadfast in our ways. We’re motivated by different things, like financial security, and to be really honest, we’re not as motivated by happiness at work, like the millennial crowd.

To better understand these similarities and differences , I recommend just going to sit down and talk with your team. Making the effort always shows and when you do it consistently, over time, your team will start to open up to you more and you’ll gain fantastic insight into the individuals that make up your company.

You’ll be surprised, too, because a lot of the time the older generations have tons of corporate knowledge that most millennials have not yet experienced. The older generations tend to know what has worked and what hasn’t and this can be highly valuable information.

When you let go of the “Hey, I know everything. I’m smart, I’m young” attitude that tends to dismiss the older folks, and instead get to know your team with a type of humility and vulnerability, you’ll really be seen as a leader they want to follow, regardless of your age.

3. Listen to your people, deeply

As a young leader with fresh energy, it can be easy to walk into a room thinking “Hey I’m in charge. Let’s do this!” but that isn’t always the most effective approach when it comes to leading a multi-generational team.

When there’s many different individuals involved with many different backgrounds and levels of experience, it’s best to take a step back and listen. Listening to everyone’s ideas shows self-awareness, empathy, and inclusivity; three things that are highly valued among all generations. You don’t have to act on every single idea that your team has, but you can at least take the time to listen and decide if they work or not.

Really listening to your employees is a skill and to do it requires the ability to put down your own ego and try to understand the other person. If you think you have all the answers, then you’ll have no reason to listen to others and they will have no reason to be transparent with you.

The more you listen, the more you’ll realize that maybe you have a lot you can learn and your team members are the ones to help you get there and grow your business to its highest potential.

Bridging the generational gap

When it comes down to it, it’s really all about finding the ways that you can get clued in to what motivates your team. Asking questions, sitting down with them, and listening deeply are three great places to start leading a generationally diverse team.

At the end of the day, it matters less about what your age is and more about what you bring to the fight. If you show up with commitment, enthusiasm, and fervor to grow the business for the good of everyone involved, people will naturally respect you as a leader.

As a rising millennial, it’s important that you find the ways to connect with your team, on all generational levels so that they feel included, motivated, and engaged in the workplace.

As a speaker for millennials in leadership, my keynotes can inspire and teach your team or organization to begin building the bridge over the generational gap. If you are interested in having me speak at your next corporate event, connect with me here!


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