Refuse Generational Labels; You’ll Lead Better

Scroll through your social media feed, and it’s highly likely you’ll see a post that bashes Millennials and the generation of kids today. Usually, there’s a picture of a string of teenagers looking at their phones or taking selfies with dire warnings of the coming apocalypse written underneath. Or perhaps you’ve seen the guilt-inducing, “share if you agree” tirade that includes a grainy vintage photo and words extolling how you came from a generation that used to play in the dirt with rusty nails, and you turned out okay.

Whether you are a part of the Lost Generation, The Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, or Generation Z, is virtually meaningless for effective leaders. These labels are for broad spectrum marketing purposes, akin to arbitrarily naming storms. The World Meteorological Organization follows stringent criteria when naming hurricanes. Not so for winter storms, which The Weather Channel took upon itself to start naming in 2012 to help boost ratings. Conceivably, it helps communicate warnings, but fundamentally, it’s designed to improve marketing and hype. Yes, names can help with recall later, but if you say, “The Blizzard of ‘78” you already have more information than “Winter Storm Maya.”

Unless you are writing policy for millions of people, you shouldn’t be overly concerned about generational labels. Just like with the plethora of behavior assessments, if you learn someone is a High-D, a parrot, a dolphin, or any other noun, it’s simply a quick shorthand you can use to try to understand a segment of your work group. But tread lightly, because tools are only useful if the person knows how to use them. People like to fit in, to be part of a tribe, but few enjoy labels. Besides, it starts to feel arbitrary and unimportant. I anecdotally asked several people what generation they belonged to. They didn’t know and had to look it up. As a general rule, resist labeling, it starts to feel a little Hesther Pryn-ish.

We like to think each generation is unique, and they are, but it’s less for which Batman or James Bond they grew up with, or what national or man-made disaster they lived through, and more about which values they fit into.

Because I’m a consultant, I view the world through a quadrant matrix. There are social or personal means versus social or personal ends. Means are the methods you use, and ends are the desired goal. Social can be thought of as the whole (society), and personal is (you) or your very small group. Social Means, tend to be concerned with the moral responsibility of the whole, while Personal Means, tend to be more concerned with individual rights. Likewise, there are Social Ends (Greatest good for the greatest number) and Personal Ends (greatest good for me.) If you break the model down to it’s simplest form, it could be four sets of values.

  1. Everybody looking out for everybody else for the greater good,
  2. Individuals looking out for themselves for the greater good;
  3. Individuals looking out for themselves for their good,
  4. Everybody looking out for individual ends.

You could plug various generations into that matrix, but that would only be a snapshot, and depending on other factors, e.g. social, economic, geographic, could be potentially misleading. Generational labels, or labels of any kind, only provide a headline. To be an effective leader you need to dig into the story. That’s why I believe it’s more useful to look at the needs, wants, challenges and values we all share at different stages in life. Some examples:

–    In our late teens, we are starting to get better at balancing our emotions, but we are often detached and opinionated.

–    In our early 20s we think we are awesome and the world is terrible; by our late 20s we still think we’re awesome, but we now think the world is what it is, and we try to figure out how we can best get along with it. We have a general ambivalence in matters of love and money. We also test our beliefs and begin to shed the ones that no longer ring true for us.

–    The early 30s is a turning point. Those beliefs we discarded may cause conflict with our parents and other elders. Who we were is different from who we are. New things become important, and there is an urgency to “do something big” before 40.

–    In our 40s we engage in self-assessment, and we have a renewed determination to “make it” by acquiring material things and “own it” by reclaiming a sense of agency. It is about power. It’s no longer about fitting into the world. It’s about creating our version of the world and contributing to it.

–    By our late 40s, we are wondering. “is this enough?” or “Is that it?” Health-wise we often alternate between feeling like hell, and never feeling better.

–    In our 50s things and thinking shifts, and we return to any of the unfinished business of our 30s. We go on new adventures and develop a compelling, “it’s my turn” attitude.

–    In our 60s we are filled with memories, we have a long view of circumstances and a renewed sense of urgency, and in our 70s and beyond, we have a great, if not always positive, perspective on life, are reflective and, health permitting, frequently have fun and sheer delight in the unfolding of new things.

There’s no denying technology, also plays a role in defining generations; think radio, film, television, the internet. But we all share the same approximate general needs, wants, and challenges are various points in our life regardless of the enabling tools around us.

As a leader, you should be willing to test your assumptions about those who work with you. When you demonstrate curiosity and a willingness to challenge your assumptions you build empathy. Empathy, gratitude and the ability to teach are crucial skills for all leaders. It transcends generational thinking and puts greater focus on individuals. Letting them know that they matter. Spend less time budgeting for cultural perks to satisfy your team and more time exploring the strengths of those who are willing to help you achieve your vision, regardless of generation.

Photo Credit: Flickr via Compfight cc

5 Career Principles to Activate Between Generations

The shift is happening. This year, Millennials will be the largest generation in the American workforce. One in three employees are Millennials, and more are coming. Preventing a generational shift is impossible. We have a choice:

  • Do we demean a generation?
  • Do we activate a new generation?

It is that simple. Do you hold people back and blame it on youth, or do you find a way to activate the talents of the next generation?

Each generation has a responsibility, not just Millennials, Gen Xers, or Boomers. There are certain career principles that withstand the test of ages, and we need to boost them in how we develop our careers and lead forward.

Career Principles to Activate Generations

1 – Engagement is dead. Activism is the new standard.

Being on the defense is not a complete strategy. Employees are put on the defense too often. In a recent Weber Shandwick report, Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism, 42% of those surveyed experienced a major event at work (e.g., lay-offs, merger or acquisition, crisis). Uncertainty may be one of the reasons why employee engagement is only at 30%.

Engagement is a low standard, rarely keeping our career fresh. Activism entails challenging conversations, involvement in industry groups, greater cross-functional understanding, and leading in positively unexpected ways. Activism is a new career mindset where we are in more control of how we solve problems and how we interact with others.

No one can control the major events. We can control our mindset in how we navigate and lead through the mazes. More than self-control, this is career control, and an activist mindset is a constant principle for career success.

2 – The status quo stunts growth. Always learn something new and advance your leadership capabilities.

Learning something new may be self-evident, especially with a dash of activism. However, learning is only the first step. What we absorb and then adopt is the only real way to enhance our leadership capabilities.

Learning is a mental activity. Converting what we learn into tangible actions is career growth activity. We need both to be relevant.

3 – Life is short. Strengthen those who will lead next.

We tend to forget, but life is short. Someone will take our role. Two questions arise:

  1. Do we want to leave the next leader stronger?
  2. Do we want a positive legacy to lead forward?

Mentoring is an age old principle that needs to be activated with new energy and conducted more boldly between young and old. The energy and boldness come from a mix of inspiration and challenge – tangible yet ambitious.

Mentoring is more than a baton being passed; mentoring is lessons learned and heard.

4 – Something old, something new – the twines that bind for strength.

New generations entering our workplaces is not new. Treating young leaders with a disdaining attitude is self-centered and unproductive. Diversity delivers strength, an ageless principle.

Diversity means activating talents across many dimensions. Through diversity, we solve problems in better ways. Through diversity, we innovate in ways thought unimaginable. Through diversity, we enhance our empathy skills.

We become more well-rounded and resilient. Being intertwined builds strength.

5 – Connections alone are not enough. Collaborate to thrive.

Through social channels, our connections reach across boundaries. Unleveraged, our connections are merely communication channels. When we activate our connections into collaborative relationships, we use the talents of all involved and gain greater momentum in our initiatives.

There is a spirit to cooperative efforts that is understood when we experience them. We need to build collaborative relationships more often by delivering clarity of mission, authority to act, and accountability on what should be achieved.

Activated Generations, Renewed Career Principles

Our workplaces are turning into activated communities. Our careers are tapping into our inner potential for a greater purpose. All combined, profit grows. Businesses gain in strength and growth. People gain energy by being activated in more meaningful ways.

Some career and leadership principles withstand the test of time while being refreshed by a new generation. We are in this time now. Let us activate them!

#TChat Preview: Why Multi-Generational Leadership Activism Is In

The TalentCulture #TChat Show is back live on Wednesday, August 19, 2015, from 1-2 pm ET (10-11 am PT).

Last week we talked about how social networking and the job search pay off, and this week we’re going to talk about why multi-generational leadership activism is in.

Regardless of pop culture wisdom, every generation wants to change the world, and millennials are no exception. But every new generation’s flaws are also stereotyped and criticized by the mainstream media, to the point where it’s non-productive.

What if these very criticisms were the foundation for refreshing new leadership? The good news is they can be, if mentored and nurtured accordingly.

In fact, this isn’t the age to just mentor millennials. We can learn better ways to grow our own talent and leadership skills from different generations. Engagement is out. Activism is in.

Sneak Peek:

#TChat Events: Why Multi-Generational Leadership Activism Is In

TChatRadio_logo_020813#TChat Radio — Wed, Aug 19 — 1 pm ET / 10 am PT

Join TalentCulture #TChat Show co-founders and co-hosts Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman as they talk about why multi-generational leadership activism is in with this week’s guests: Jon Mertz, thought leader, author and a Leader to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association; and Danny Rubin, Millennial communications expert and author.


Tune in LIVE online Wednesday, Aug 19

#TChat Twitter Chat — Wed, Aug 19 — 1:30 pm ET /10:30 am PT Immediately following the radio show, Meghan, Kevin, and Jon will move to the #TChat Twitter stream, where we’ll continue the discussion with the entire TalentCulture community. Everyone with a Twitter account is invited to participate, as we gather for a dynamic live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1: What new leadership skills do younger generations bring to business? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Q2: Should leadership mentoring be cross-generational in business today? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Q3: What are career development truths we all need to embrace today? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Until then, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community LinkedIn group, and in our TalentCulture G+ community. So feel free to drop by anytime and share your questions, ideas and opinions. See you there!!!

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Generation X at Bat #TChat Recap

Do you ever wish you could instantly capture expert advice or opinions from across the World of Work?

Here’s an easy solution: Just ask a quick question on Twitter about generational differences in today’s workplace. Even better, ask that question during a #TChat event. I guarantee that, within moments, you’ll be drinking from a fire hose of thoughtful, passionate, articulate responses!

That’s exactly what we experienced on the #TChat stream last night with special guest, Mark Babbitt. As founder + CEO of YouTern, an organization that helps young professionals grow through high-impact information, mentorships and internships, Mark has developed strong opinions about the silent strength that Generation X brings to the workforce.

Do You Mind If I Talk About Your Age?

We were curious if the TalentCulture community agrees with Mark’s perspective. And we wondered how important generational similarities and differences are in shaping tomorrow’s organizations.

The conversation exposed what at first blush, might seem like opposing viewpoints. For example, on one hand, many participants emphasized the benefits of celebrating diversity:

“It’s not one-size-fits-all.” …and… “Let’s value the differences.” …and as Tom Bolt suggested…

Meanwhile, other participants emphasized the importance of focusing on similarities:

“Empower people; stop focusing on generations.” …and… “There are inspired, innovative, connected people in every generation.” …and as Kelly Blokdijk noted…

Of course, upon reflection, these perspectives are really two sides of the same coin. Both hold truths that can propel organizations forward.

But key questions remain — HOW BEST can we bring together both ends of this spectrum to create more effective organizational cultures? And how prepared is our next wave of leaders to accomplish that mission? Whenever human behavior is involved, there are many roads to the same destination. Some paths have many more detours and roadblocks. Organizations need smart navigators. Meanwhile, the business world continues to grow more complex and challenging. That’s why we’ll need extraordinary leaders in the future — regardless of their generation.

What’s Age Got To Do With It?

In the meantime, we look to one another for guidance. It’s actually phenomenal how much information has been created and shared about generations in the workplace. And yet organizations still struggle with how to “make it work.”

Just for fun, consider this quick, unscientific peek at the magnitude of commentary available online:

“Millennials” work = 39,000,000
“Boomers” work = 37,000,000
“Generation X” work = 3,260,000

You’d think there are enough nuggets of wisdom in there to help us understand and resolve these issues. But ideas, alone, aren’t the answer. Action is also required.

I wonder what “old-school” sage, the late Peter Drucker, would have said about this, if he had joined #TChat Twitter last night? Perhaps only this:

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.”

After all, no matter how old or young we are, that’s really the only path to progress.

So let’s keep the ideas flowing. Let’s keep the lines of communication open. Let’s share what works, and toss out what doesn’t. But most of all, let’s encourage one another to be bold and try “something new.” Let’s keep trying, and learning, and growing, and evolving. Let’s look forward to creating that “new” future together!

#TChat Week-In-Review: Gen X — Leading From The Middle


Watch the Hangout now

SAT 10/12:

#TChat Preview:
TalentCulture Community Manager Tim McDonald framed this week’s topic in a post that featured a brief G+ Hangout video with guest Mark Babbitt. Read the Preview: “Gen X: Leading From The Middle.”

SUN 10/13: Post: TalentCulture CEO, Meghan M. Biro suggested how leaders can overcome generational differences. Read: “5 Ways Leaders Bridge the Generational Divide.”

TUE 10/15:

Related Post: Dan Newman, author of “The Millennial CEO,” examined the source of effective leadership. Read: “Anatomy of a Leader: Not Just Skin Deep.”

WED 10/16:


Listen to the radio show now

#TChat Radio: Our hosts, Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman spoke with special guest, Mark Babbitt, about the unique challenges and opportunities that Generation X faces in today’s world of work. Listen to the radio recording now!

#TChat Twitter: Immediately following the radio show, Mark, Meghan and Kevin joined the entire community on the #TChat Twitter stream for an open conversation about 5 related questions. For highlights, check the Storify slideshow below:

#TChat Highlights: Gen X: Leading From The Middle

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Closing Notes & What’s Ahead

GRATITUDE: Thanks again to Mark Babbitt for adding your voice to this week’s discussion. Your insights about Gen X have helped challenge our assumptions and expand our understanding.

NOTE TO BLOGGERS: Did this week’s events prompt you to write about the multi-generational workforce? We’d love to share your thoughts. Post a link on Twitter (include #TChat or @TalentCulture), or insert a comment below, and we’ll pass it along.

WHAT’S AHEAD: Next week, we tackle another important “world of work” topic. So save the date (October 23) for another rockin #TChat double header. And keep an eye out for details in the next few days.

Meanwhile, the World of Work conversation continues! So join us on the #TChat Twitter stream, on our LinkedIn discussion group. or elsewhere on social media. The lights are always on here at TalentCulture, and your thoughts are always welcome.

See you on the stream!

Image Credit: Stock.xchng

Gen X: Leading From The Middle #TChat Preview

(Editor’s Note: Are you looking for a complete overview of the week’s #TChat highlights and resource links? Read the #TChat Recap: “Generation X At Bat.”)

I just discovered that I’m exceptional! Or to be more accurate, I’m unconventional.

I’m a member of Gen X — and according to those who analyze age-related attributes, I should feel disadvantaged and overlooked in the workplace. Fortunately, I’ve had an interesting and rewarding career path, so perhaps I just got lucky. Or perhaps the assumptions aren’t as universal as we think.

But that raises some related questions — Just how “real” is the generational divide at work? And what do those differences mean, as Baby Boomers begin to retire, and a new wave of leaders steps up to drive the world of work?

Last week at #TChat Twitter, our community collectively agreed that the office is no place for age discrimination. However, for better or worse, each generation brings a unique set of shared experiences to the workplace. Are Baby Boomers and Millennials stealing attention from those of us who are “in the middle”? If so, what kind of impact will that have on the future of work?

This week, we’re addressing those questions head-on. We want to give Gen X the attention it deserves. And we’ve invited an ideal expert to lead the discussion:

Mark Babbitt, Founder + CEO of YouTern, an organization that helps young talent develop professionally through high-impact mentors, internships and information.

I spoke with Mark briefly in a joint G+ Hangout, where he set the stage for this week’s topic:

No matter what generation you represent, we want to hear your thoughts about how organizations can prepare tomorrow’s leaders for success. So please join us, and bring your ideas and opinions!

#TChat Events: Gen X — Leading From The Middle


Tune-in to the #TChat Radio show

#TChat Radio — Wed, Oct 16 — 6:30pmET / 3:30pmPT

Our hosts, Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman talk with Mark Babbitt about the unique challenges and opportunities that Generation X faces in today’s world of work. Follow the action LIVE online, and dial-in with your feedback and questions!

#TChat Twitter — Wed, Oct 16 7pmET / 4pmPT

Immediately following the radio show, we’ll move this discussion to the #TChat Twitter stream for an open chat with the entire TalentCulture community. Anyone with a Twitter account is invited to participate, as we address these questions:

Q1: Gen X is “forgotten” in today’s workforce — myth or reality?
Q2: How can Gen Xers elevate their visibility and value at work?
Q3: Why is it smart for employers to empower all generations?
Q4: How can today’s leaders develop tomorrow’s decision makers?
Q5: What could technology do to remove generational barriers?

Throughout the week, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed and on our LinkedIn Discussion Group. So please join us share your questions, ideas and opinions.

We’ll see you on the stream!