DickersonBakker Blog

How Can You Lead the Different Generations?

I’m a Millennial, and my grandma often wonders “what happened” to my generation. She had her first job at twelve, was married by sixteen, and had six boys and a full-time job by the time she was my age. “Nowadays, kids are living with their parents until they’re thirty!” my grandma comments.

Times have changed. Events, technology, and culture change what each generation values. That can also create conflict within your nonprofit organization—with three, sometimes four, generations all wanting different things from your executive director and leadership team.

Recently, members of the DBA team attended the  “Generational Diversity and Leadership” workshop at the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire. In the session, Drs. Rhetta Standifer and Scott Lester explored what type of leadership styles Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials generally respond best to.

They went around the room and had people throw out ideas. The Boomers said they wanted a leader who was experienced, professional, and work-focused. The Gen Xers desired a competent leader (though he or she didn’t have to be the most experienced person in the room), but also a leader who wouldn’t micromanage them. On the contrary, Millennials valued a leader who affirmed them and coached them through projects.

Three different leadership styles. Three different desires. But, the good news is that there is one thing that Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials have in common: We all want to feel that we’re making a difference.

The Boomers, on the cusp of retirement, want to know that their years of work meant something. The Gen Xers, who are rising in the management ranks, want to make a difference in their organizations. And the Millennials, still new to the workforce, want to feel valued despite their inexperience.

So, even if you can’t speak each generation’s “leadership language,” you can make each employee and volunteer in your nonprofit feel significant. That is something that everyone, no matter their age, has in common.

What challenges have you faced working with different generations? Comment below!

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