Multigenerational management: Mind the gap

I think that’s why I found our recent CausePlanet book feature especially compelling: Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia – Multigenerational Management Ideas That Are Changing the Way We Run Things. Managers today have to diversify their leadership approach more than ever to motivate Boomers, engage Gen Y and not forget Gen X in the middle.


Author Brad Szollose says, “Today’s generation gap is permanent and unlike any gap we’ve seen before; it is a chasm. We cannot return to the past any more easily than Dorothy Gale could go back to her black-and-white world unchanged. But we can bridge the gap and make it work under a new paradigm, starting with an understanding of how each of us approaches work. The integration of Boomers and “Netizens” is paramount to our success.”


To stay relevant as a leader in today’s workplace will require a willingness to constantly embrace what’s new outside of your organization and especially, inside among your team members. You might ask how this leadership perspective would be different than any other decade. The answer lies in Szollose’s first of seven laws that “puts people first.” To do so today means understanding how to nurture a productive continuum between enormously different working styles among the Gen Y and the Boomers.


Ultimately, Szollose impresses upon us that the most nimble leaders are the most successful because they realize the business model we’ve depended upon for the last hundred years is dead. Now, there are no rules for your business model. Instead you must stay open to new ideas, new technologies and even hybrids from the past, present and future to keep your organization relevant. You must create an environment where you can look to the smart people you’ve surrounded yourself with and learn from them, as well as pay attention to your marketplace and how opportunities arise.


The following is a Page to Practice excerpt of Szollose’s first of seven laws for managing a multi-generational team.


1st Law – A Liquid Leader Places People First

Szollose believes that flexible leaders begin by putting their people first and in doing so, recognize they are a composite of enormously different experiences and should be led accordingly. The author says that Boomers need to rely on Gen Y because most of the technological practices in use today did not exist five years ago. Instead of resisting the “citizens of the internet (or “Netizens”),” it’s critical to recognize this generation as talent-rich contributors because of their ability to consume astounding amounts of information from being raised on the Internet, resulting in an aptitude for technology. Conversely, Gen Y needs to trust Boomers who rely on strategy and are able to see the bigger picture. They have an eye for spotting talent and identifying potential pitfalls thanks to more experience.


Szollose also recommends putting your people first by setting clear standards of performance for them within a setting of a flat hierarchy, which contributes to a nimble organization and gets everyone involved and aligned to the entire organization’s success. Additionally, this structure allows for direct communication with the front lines so you can eliminate perceived and real barriers that prevent your staff from succeeding. Szollose says that “when the distance between upper management and the rest of the company was the greatest, management took longer to discover internal and external problems.”


Putting people first is also accomplished by redefining your role as a leader. In the author’s words, “For leadership to work these days requires leaders to be more approachable, more flexible, and stronger decision makers who show respect for every member’s contribution to the organization.” Szollose says that organizations that have strict boundaries and hierarchies create a scenario where the leaders are the last to know when things go wrong. Equally important is that this scenario diminishes innovation and ideas are never brought forward, encouraging staff members to hoard information and create silos and redundancy. In other words, this way of business is a waste of money. Instead, close the gap between management and implementers, redistribute decision making and establish an open-door policy.


And finally, putting people first means recognizing that your talent-rich team is progressively becoming more transient. They have laptops and they’re willing to travel. Boomers and Gen Y alike are no longer bound by their location to be creative or productive on behalf of an organization. “Transient” also applies to the status of your staff—you can hire contractors who meet your specific needs for important tasks. Implementers can come and go depending on the timing or seasonality of your projects and programs.


If you were going to add to one of Brad’s immutable laws for being a flexible leader of a multigenerational team, what would it be? Email us at


For more information about Brad Szollose and his book, you can visit his blog at If anyone is interested in a free special report, “Cracking the Gen Y Code: How They Think, How They Work and How They Buy,” email Brad at Include your name, email address and that you heard about his book from CausePlanet.

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