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Leadership Development for a Multi-generational Workforce

In an age where talent shortages are rampant due to skill shortages and the rapid exit of older more seasoned employees from the workforce, human resource professionals are challenged to develop the next generation of leaders to take their place. However, this itself is tough, given that there are four distinct generations who all see leadership in very different ways.

Differing generational values on leadership

A study and subsequent book was published by Universum, a leading employer branding, research and advisory firm; about the need to build leaders for the future. In their study of the different generations at work, Universum found:

  • Generation X and Y both appreciate open communication and feedback
  • Generation Z prefers positive attitudes over communication
  • Only 25% of Gen X says that have a positive attitude about leadership, but they expect this from their supervisors
  • Around 23% of Gen X leaders take pride in offering strong personal ethics, but only 12% of Gen Z are looking for this quality in leaders

While the Universum study did not supply any details about Baby Boomer leaders, the general concensus is that they are leaving the workforce soon and the knowledge they have needs to be captured. They too have a lot to share and their values seem to be more closely matched to Gen X who are taking up the mantle of leadership in their place now.

Myths don’t need to get in the way of leadership development efforts

In order to properly create career development programs for employees, we must dispel some common myths. For one, there is a pervading belief that each generation prefers being led by those who are most like them. But, according to the Center for Creative Leadership, this is false. Jennifer Deal, an instructor at CCL, says that, “people of all generations want leaders who are credible and trustworthy, above all else.” Credibility and being able to demonstrate genuine leadership ability is what inspires subordinates at all levels. There is no one perfect way to lead people.

Another myth is that leaders must be feared. It has been long thought that leaders must tap into the fear factor to motivate employees, which explains the negative ideas that people have about their bosses. But, according to Belinda Davies, executive coach and founder of Leadership Solutions, the constant threat of upsetting the boss or being fired actually works in the opposite and reduces both brain function and productivity in employees! She says, “People who are afraid will never perform well or take the initiative”

Giving the next generation the tools to succeed in leadership

The time is now to start formulating ways that Gen X, Y, & Z can not only experience proper leadership methods at work, but also to start being confident to step up and take their place too. Leaders are not born. They are made out of the unlikeliest of places. People who do not demonstrate leadership ability may become your next great leaders. HR can guide current leaders at encouraging leadership development through every day interventions and on-the-job learning opportunities.

Join me at a webinar on Millennial leadership

On Tuesday June 13, 2017, I am speaking at an HR webinar about developing the Millennial generation how to become leaders. Not only that, but I will be sharing how to get Millennials excited about leadership when they can be a bit reluctant at times. I encourage you to register and be part of this event, and be sure to download the special report that provides helpful information on how to develop Millennial leaders.

In the next few weeks, I will also be rolling out a leadership development course, right here on the HR Knows website. I hope you will find this useful as you identify and train your new generation of leaders.


Tess Taylor

Tess Taylor is the Founder and CEO of HR Knows

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