Leading Teams With Multiple Generations
Millennials are the worst, am I right?
They’re entitled and narcissistic, and if they’re not texting while driving, they’re posting pictures of their food on Instagram. Of course, Gen Xers aren’t much better – an entire generation of slackers who live only to bring other people down. And don’t get me started on baby boomers, the original “me” generation, the ones who were born on third base and think they hit a triple – yet they still can’t figure out how to program their VCR. (Millennials: A VCR is an electronic device that let people record their television shows in the days before DVRs and video on demand.)
Since the beginning of human history, mankind has been making generalizations. Usually, this was done for safety reasons – if you were once attacked by a grizzly bear hunting for dinner, you’re probably going to steer clear of all bears you encounter, even if they’re not grizzlies, even if they’re not feeding. You generalize based on your experience – that all bears are dangerous – in an abundance of safety.
When it comes to people, though, in modern-day civilization, generalizing based on appearance or your own preconceived notions can lead you to make assumptions that are wildly off the mark. This is the root of stereotypes when you decide (for example) that all millennials behave a certain way because you’ve encountered one twenty-something who does, or because popular culture told you that’s how they behave. It also leads to what sociologists call the fundamental attribution error:
The tendency to attribute the behavior of others to internal causes (personality, likes, and so forth), while ignoring or underestimating the effects of external, situational factors.
This occurs when you assume that a particular behavior is a result of something internal (like a personality trait) rather than some external force. An example would be assuming your Gen X team member is late to work because she is apathetic, rather than stuck in traffic.
Two of the tools you can use to short-circuit this tendency includes practicing the Titanium Rule and simply getting to know your team members as individuals.
THE TITANIUM RULE
We’ve all heard of the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. While this is a good rule to follow in general, there is a fundamental flaw: it substitutes your preferred mode of treatment and action for theirs. Even if you have the best of intentions, you are still imposing a value system on them that they might not share. (This is like wishing someone “Merry Christmas!” even though they have a menorah on their desk.)
Instead, consider the Titanium Rule – do unto others as THEY would have you do unto them. Understand, though, that the Titanium Rule is harder: It requires you to get to know each person on your team intimately. It’s also essential to effective leadership. That leads us to…
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
In some ways, leading a generationally diverse team is no different than leading a team that isn’t diverse – instead of relying on assumptions or generalizations, get to know each member of your team. That includes their personalities, likes and dislikes, but also their values and how they process and act on new information.
At EDGE, we often facilitate workshops using assessments like Everything DiSC to help break down generational preconceptions and assumptions and help team members to truly get to know and understand one another. In every case, it has helped stimulate real relationships and create better-functioning leaders and teams, regardless of generations.
So, how are you getting generations to work effectively in the workplace? Let us know how we can help.