Think the boss of the future is going to be made in the model of the traditional and decisive baby boomer?
While baby boomers have honed their skills in long-term thinking and motivating staff, Gen X and Y are doing things differently, a new report reveals.
A new report called The Great Generational Shift by recruitment firm Hudson analysed the leadership traits of 28,000 professionals globally, finding significant generational differences.
This comes as Generation Z enters the workplace, baby boomers begin to retire, and Gen X and Y step up.
The report paints a not-entirely favourable picture of some boomer bosses. While the benefits of greater experience cannot be understated, it says some boomer leaders have lower technical ability and fewer creative skills compared to the younger generations. Nearing the end of their career, they can also be less ambitious.
Hudson’s Regional Assessment Solutions Manager Dr Crissa Sumner says the new generations of leaders have a greater focus on the short-term, and are likely to lead by example. Both X and Y have strong people skills more likely to explain and relate than to persuade staff.
“We’ll see their strengths in conceptual and abstract thinking; their ability to connect the dots for others in the workplace and provide those meaningful insights for team members,” Dr Sumner says.
Developing in the fast moving digital age, Gen Y skills in particular are “potentially more relevant” for today’s business environment.
Defining a leader by generation
Baby boomer: Traditional leaders, decisive, motivating, persuasive and strategic
Generation X: Socially progressive, change-oriented and culturally sensitive
Generation Y: Abstract thinkers, meticulous, ambitious, socially confident
Dr Sumner says the research has dispelled many of the popular cliches around this generation of workers who rather than being lazy or self-centered and ambitious and people-oriented.
“What an organisation can expect is that Gen Y are likely to be leaders who are more visionary ‘thought’ leaders and role models,” she says.
“I think you can see the data links to what we are seeing in changes in the external environment, nowadays leaders don’t have to influence by information and facts, employees can get all that at their fingertips, they need someone to help them understand that data.”
In practice this means they are less hands-on and unlikely to micro-manage.
“We are seeing that Gen Y are less strategic,” Dr Sumner says.
“They are likely to keep the short-term and immediate needs as well as longer-term goals and that’s probably appropriate for today’s environment.”
But that doesn’t mean the baby boomers should be pushed out the door.
Dr Sumner says their traditional skills are going to continue to be essential for businesses.
Both Gen X and Y were lacking in these, with boomers continuing to have more power and influence over others.
“I think organisations are going to have to pair up boomers and Gen Y before those skills are lost,” Dr Sumner says.
Stuck in the middle, Gen X is the most socially progressive generation. Dr Sumner says it is the one who can smooth over relationships between the ambitious Gen Ys and the traditional boomers.
This is the most altruistic generation of leaders which the report describes as natural diplomats who are “wired, self-reliant” and “autonomous” leaders.
Generation clash: how to cope
Clashes between generations are not new. Boomers are found to be judgemental of younger generations, particularly around their work ethics, while Gen Y can be critical of out-of touch older workers.
The report says boomers will need to adjust expectations, Generation X will have to step up and use their diplomatic powers, and Generation Y will learn from the established skills of older workers.
“More than ever before, it is imperative that organisations understand the profound psychological differences in how the various generations think, act and lead,” says Simon Moylan, Hudson Executive General Manager of Talent Management – Asia-Pacific.
“Organisations need to understand what it is that motivates their employees and connect the dots between the motivational drivers of those in different ages and stages.”
Mr Moylan warns companies will also need to work out which are the best leaders, and skills, to take them into the future.
How to approach a boss from generation…
Baby boomer: recognise they are going to be more strategic, so you might need to talk longer-term as they may not pay as much attention to the short-term.
Gen X: this generation has a more flexible profile, so be open.
Gen Y: they have a preference for conceptual thinking, so talk big picture, don’t get down to the nitty gritty because you’ll lose them.
Gen Z: we don’t know anything about this generation yet, so be open-minded and don’t make assumptions.