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Leadership Advice…for the Ages (ALL Ages)


What is it about the human experience that draws us to focus on our differences rather than our similarities? Does it come from our need to simplify the complexities of the world around us? Or is it a survival-based carryover from times when unfamiliar forces were synonymous with threats?

generationsWhatever the reason, for decades we’ve invested considerable energy in dissecting and understanding differences among the generations in the workplace. It’s the topic of hundreds of thousands of books, articles, and talks. And let’s face it… it’s comforting to wrap a whole group of people up with a common label and a few bullet-point characteristics.

But in an effort to understand the nuances of how people of different ages behave and contribute to the world of work, we have over-simplified and actually confused the situation. According to recent research, the similarities among the generations are in reality far greater than the differences that divide us.

Research I recently conducted with Olivia Gamber (published in the current edition of Training Industry Magazine’s article, “Blowing Your Millennial Mindset“) paints a new—and for leaders, comforting—picture of the needs, priorities and beliefs that are shared across generations.

For years, managers have been schooled in how to adapt their approaches to the wildly different expectations employees bring based upon when they were born. But the truth is that regardless of birth dates, there are some profound commonalities that—if understood—provide powerful leadership advice… for all ages.

When it comes to workplace priorities, all generations fundamentally want much the same thing. When analyzing the five top most important priorities for Young Millennials, Older Millennials, Generation-X, and Baby Boomers, all share ‘fair treatment and respect’ and ‘interesting work’.

All except Baby Boomers indicate that ‘having a boss they respect and trust’ is a #1 priority. And Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers place high importance on ‘open, transparent communication’.

So, what does this mean for managers?  Rather than crafting stratified strategies based upon an employee’s generational affiliation, it’s possible to demonstrate some key behaviors that resonate for everyone regardless of their age. To effectively lead anyone, follow these ‘timeless’ guidelines:

  • Treat everyone fairly. Demonstrate respect for each individual. Build and maintain the self-esteem of others.
  • Make sure that people are engaged in interesting work. And if it’s not intrinsically stimulating, work with employees to add interest.
  • Be the kind of boss that people respect. Let others know you have their backs. Build and reinforce trust at every turn.
  • Share the information people need to perform well and feel engaged. Open the books and let others in on the strategy, finances, and other important organizational information.

As it turns out, these straightforward leadership fundamentals help managers to be more effective with Young Millennials, Older Millennials, Generation-X, and Baby Boomers—all at the same time.

You can learn more about this research study as well as generational preferences and beliefs in this month’s Training Industry Magazine article.


  1. The quest to understand often divides causing unintended consequences. The axioms presented in the article ring true. You may need to reconsider your vehicles for communicating generationally…but following these principles is good sound advice.

    • Thanks, David, for your comment. Your first line is really powerful – and one that applies well beyond organizational leadership. I really appreciate you sharing your insights.

  2. There was a great management development course at Xerox that helped managers (leaders) build interpersonal communication skills. One of the skill models was called Managing Differences. It offered a discussion skill model that began with a step of summarizing what’s important to you and then after confirming that the manager would say and let me tell you what’s important to me. That simple pause (maybe similar to Covey’s seek first to understand) diffused any emotion, found common ground and mutual respect. I suspect it works through all generational boundaries. Can’t wait what consultant will be first to describe “what’s different” about Gen Z! Great article Julie.

    • I remember that program, John. And I’d agree that this kind of human approach is timeless and resonates no make what generation an employee is born into! Thanks for your comment and congratulations on your terrific new book!

  3. The human Operating System (hOS) hasn’t changed in thousands of years, let alone the last 60 or so. As a simple example, the 7 Deadly/ Cardinal Sins are still just as much relevant today… once people may have been envious of the number of camels their neighbour had, and now they are envious of the number of FaceBook friends their neighbour has. Envy is still envy. We have been seduced into thinking that the superficial stuff around the outside is more important than the workings inside.

    • Well said, Mark. If we can focus on the ‘workings inside’ and what we all share, I really believe this will help to demystify the work of leadership for many. I appreciate you joining the conversation.


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