To Lead Across Generations Leaders Must Look in the Mirror

Millennials at a Flip Chart

If leaders want to solve the challenges of the 4-generation workplace, they need to look in the mirror. Leadership is not generational, it’s relational.

Today’s post is by Kelly Riggs and Robby Riggs, authors of Counter Mentor Leadership (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

Generational conflict in the workplace is an almost universal topic of discussion. Typically, it goes something like this: “What is wrong with these [expletive deleted] Millennials?” Usually from a Boomer manager who is oblivious to the real issue at hand.

The truth is every “new” generation is perceived by the older generation to be “different” and likely to lead the world off a cliff! Imagine what managers must have thought when later Boomers (born after 1950) began to enter the workplace. The Woodstock generation made the word “different” seem inadequate!

The challenge is not that there is something wrong with Millennials (or Gen Z, now entering the workplace). The seemingly Herculean challenge is how to adapt as a leader to a changing workplace in order to create a culture that will allow anyone – from any generation – to thrive.

That requires that leaders look in the mirror. Translation: You need to transform. #truth

The alternative, of course, is to continue wondering what is wrong with Millennials. Let’s see… Change and thrive, or whine and complain? And you’re thinking Millennials have issues with entitlement?!

Of course, those Millennials are going to have to adapt as well. We’re not talking about the tail wagging the dog, but, if you’re interested in transforming the potential of your younger workforce into serious results, you will have to initiate the change process as the leader.

You are the leader, and YOU define what the organization (or team) will look like. You are responsible for how your team performs. After all, you hire your people. You train them. You lead them.

So, if your team is floundering, whose fault is it?

The good news is that all of these things – hiring, training, and leadership – are skills that can be learned. Although leadership is anything but easy, the truth is that most managers are ineffective as leaders for one very simple reason – they have never been introduced (much less intentionally taught and developed) to many of those critical skills.

In Counter Mentor Leadership, we provide visibility to the critical leadership skills that corporate managers must acquire if they are to successfully adapt to the chaos of the new Millennial driven and dominated workplace. Here are three of those critical leadership items:

1. Connection. Leadership is defined as the ability to influence, but influence is impossible where trust does not exist. No one will follow people they don’t trust regardless of their capabilities, so trust becomes the foundation of leadership. In fact, leadership isn’t generational, it’s relational.

When leaders strive to connect, to build a mutual relationship of trust, amazing things happen in the workplace. Perhaps the most significant of those things is that employee engagement increases dramatically. Since basically every performance metric imaginable rises in proportion to employee engagement, it is in the leader’s best interest to build that connection!

One of our recent clients – a billion-dollar distribution company – saw employee engagement rise dramatically across the board as leaders learned how to build trust and improve communication using our Counter Mentor 1-on-1 Meeting™ template as a foundation. “I’ve been leading people for a long time,” the HR leader told us. “This has been a game-changer.”

Connection develops trust. Trust improves engagement. Engagement elevates performance.

It is definitely a game-changer.

2. Clarity. We are amazed at how often employees report working without a clear understanding of their manager’s expectations. Managers tend to think that the job itself provides those expectations. #trainwreck

For example, you hire a receptionist to answer the phone and serve as the initial contact point for your business. But surely everyone knows how to answer a phone properly, right? Everyone knows how to effectively route calls, and create a professional image for the company, and make people feel welcome.

Of course they do.

Creating clarity is the process of helping your employees understand your expectations. Those expectations can extend to job functions, team cultural norms, specific tasks or projects, and much more. Without distinct clarity in each of those areas, you are headed directly for conflict. In fact, conflict is actually nothing more than frustrated expectations – you expected one result, but got something different. Let the conflict begin.

How important is clarity? Gallup research indicates it is likely the primary driver of employee engagement, yet only about half of all employees say they “strongly” know what is expected of them.

“Expectations—or a lack thereof—have the power to make or break worker engagement. Even if employees feel energized and motivated, those who lack clear expectations and spend too much time working on the wrong things can’t advance key initiatives to create value for an organization.”

3. Coaching. Teams don’t get better unless the players get better. Unfortunately, very few leaders actually know how to coach effectively.

The good news is that we have already given you the critical prerequisites of coaching. Effective coaching is impossible without establishing trust (connection) and communicating clear expectations (clarity). You can only imagine what coaching feels like in the absence of those two things, but the word employees most often use – usually while on LinkedIn looking at other opportunities – is “criticism.”

Effective coaching is the process of helping employees improve in specific skills or in the execution of key parts of a process. Criticism, on the other hand, is simply pointing out error, assigning blame, and demanding change. We’re sure it’s probably self-evident, but that particular approach is typically not very good for employee engagement. #captainobvious

Transformational leaders understand that driving their multi-generational, cross-functional, diverse teams of 2018 require focus and intent in the areas that actually matter – connection, clarity, and coaching.

Counter Mentor LeadershipKelly Riggs is an author, speaker and business performance coach for executives and companies throughout the U.S. and Canada. Robby Riggs is an author, speaker, and corporate consultant specializing in strategic transformation initiatives and driving successful change in companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100s. Their new book, Counter Mentor Leadership: How to Unlock the Potential of the 4-Generation Workplace (CLICK HERE to get your copy), offers practical, actionable advice that improves workplace culture and enables organizations to bridge the generational divide. Learn more at

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Photo: Millennials Jam Workshop by ITU Pictures

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