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Generational Leadership

Generation Leadership: Hands On or Hands Off?

Generation Leadership

There has been talk for a while about generational transitions in leadership. By now, many Traditionalists have left the top helm. Generation X:ers waiting for Boomers to move on may have to wait a few more years, while just underneath them the Millennials are nipping at their heels. Each of the generations has a very different leadership style and preference that impacts how they work with everyone else in the company. Take a look and see:

Traditionalists – prefer a hierarchical leadership style with clearly defined roles and boundaries. Titles have meaning to members of this generation and they expect those that hold them to do their work accordingly. Traditionalists appreciate scheduled meetings that follow a set structure. Many of them created the companies that they are working in, whether de facto or by participation. Now they are looking for leadership that they can respect and that will listen to what their experience has to offer.

Boomers – are great strategists who generally like to be involved in various aspects of the projects that they lead. Boomers like to create long-range plans and scenarios that their teams can implement. They are likely to hold several meetings to ensure that they are on task and target, and want to see everyone participate and be part of the process. As management trainees, they were told to manage-by-walking-around. That level of involvement is still a part of their leadership strategy today.

Generation X – value independence for themselves and the people that they work with. They expect appreciation for individual contributions and a focus on results more than time spent on the job. Where Boomers like to hold a lot of meetings, Generation X:ers tend to want to limit them. When they do hold or attend meetings, Generation X:ers want the meetings to have a clear focus with set goals and accountability strategies so that their time does not seem wasted. Trained with a Just-in-Time mentality, Generation X:ers want to be effective in their use of time and often feel that much can be accomplished by email and other technologies. As leaders, their focus on independence and time well spent is often challenged by Millennials.

Millennials or Generation Y – like working in teams and feeling that they are part of a group. As leaders, they are very likely to expect and appreciate the input of everyone, from the smallest contribution to the largest. They will acknowledge every small and large part that individuals play, sometimes to the chagrin of others that tend to value larger roles more. Millennials typically want to give and get a lot of feedback to and from their peers as well as their supervisors. It is often very easy for a Millennial to reach out across generational and hierarchical lines to have a conversation with someone that others would not expect them to.  Much of their work is likely to take place with distributed workforces in real time using technologies like Skype and chat forums. Multitasking and immediacy are the norm for Millennial leaders, and they will expect the same from their teams.

The generations offer very different leadership styles and expectations. It is important to acknowledge each and to help employees understand that the styles are different, but the outcomes that your company needs are not. Work together to identify the blend of styles that work for you, then offer everyone training and support to get the best out of one and all.

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About Dr. Annika Hylmö

Dr. Annika Hylmö is an Organizational Strategy Consultant and Executive and Leadership Coach with The Insight Generation. Annika has a Ph.D. in Organizational Communication and a M.A. in International Communication. She can be contacted at

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One Comment

  1. Jonathan ReitzJuly 15, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    The Millenial feedback need–I guess it’s a need–is the biggest challenge for a lot of leaders. The cycle that plays out is often talk, talk, talk, talk, talk and it seems like nothing is happening. But then, all of a sudden a burst of accomplishment will happen!

    An effective manager/leader will have to be patient waiting for the burst. The more patient the manager/leader is, the bigger the burst!

About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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