The Head, Heart and Hands of Leading Across Generations

The people in your organization born between 1982-2004 are not unique, special, or valued because they associate with the Millennial Generation. They are unique, special, and valued because they are individuals and they are part of your organization. Regardless of the generation(s) you find yourself leading, it’s about engagement and engagement encompasses the head, the heart, and the hands. Here are three directives to keep in mind on your leadership development journey.

The Head: Leverage Mindset

Think about the realities you grew up with that have influenced your mindsets and the way you view the world. Now consider the realities experienced by Millennials. There are a few assumptions this generation may have developed based on their experience. First, the entire world is and should be connected in real time. Second, on-demand services exist for close to everything you can imagine. Third, we are the media. You can produce and distribute your own print (blog), radio (podcast), and television channel (YouTube) and you can do it relatively free. This is a radical departure from the experience of previous generations and yet we are all in this reality together now. The difference is we don’t all understand or trust the principles of this new world. Herein lies a huge opportunity to leverage mindset and fan the flames of creativity. Consider the areas of your business that could benefit from reversing assumptions and setting a team loose to create what’s next? If you’re willing to provide the context of your business along with clear parameters and expectations, the members of any generation will be willing to ask, “what if” and “why not” to drive meaningful innovation. How are you empowering them with what they need to be successful?

The Heart: Provide Purpose

Millennials are often tagged as the generation “wanting purpose in their work”. Newsflash, we all want purpose in our work! The difference I often see is that many in this generation are more vocal about the importance of connecting work to purpose. How fortunate we are that this conversation is receiving so much attention because it’s absolutely essential for the greatest level of engagement. I also see Millennials missing the reality that work often precedes the discovery of purpose. While members of other generations have perhaps settled for work not aligned with a greater purpose, Millennials are at risk of viewing any work not aligned with a greater purpose as meaningless and unworthy of pursuit. Provide purpose to those you lead by helping them understand that purpose is not defined by work, and true purpose can be lived out and further discovered through even what seems to be meaningless work. A word to all in search of purpose: Don’t settle for less than alignment in the long-term and don’t shortcut the discovery process in the near-term lest you risk losing significant learning experiences. How well are you connected with your “Why” and living that out in your work? What about your organization? Is there a shared understanding of why your company exists? Do people have line of site to connect their work to the bigger picture?

The Hands: Invest Time

One assumption you may hold is that “those Millennials” think they have all the answers and don’t need the “old guard” to help them succeed. Don’t underestimate the desire of those you lead to learn from you, understand the history of the organization, and your vision of the future. To a greater or lesser degree, upcoming generations have always demonstrated a “we got this” attitude. It’s your job to embrace, challenge, fuel, and direct that energy. While some may look at Millennials as a group who “doesn’t get it”, we could also falsely assume this generation has all the answers to questions involving technologies we didn’t know existed. Both views are limiting. When you invest the time to share the history of success and failure in your organization and help Millennials put that history in the context of their experience and share their perspectives, you will discover great insights. What are the top five historical milestones that have shaped the company? What are the stories which should transcend time? What’s your vision of the future and how do you see those you lead playing a part of making it a reality?

As you consider how you may elevate your leadership effectiveness, consider the underlying truths that define great leadership for any generation. At the same time, recognize the realities of the times that shape each generation and most importantly, the unique experience of everyone you lead. Practice genuine curiosity to understand the needs, wants, and desires of each valued team member and seek to create an environment in which they can fully engage their head, heart, and hands. If you want to discuss these concepts and principles further and what you’ve experienced, we’d love to talk.

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