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Wednesday, 23 January 2019
The Power of Intergenerational leadership
As the workplace becomes host to five generations, intergenerational relationships pose new challenges for both leaders and direct reports.1


For the first time in history there are five generations in the workforce: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, and Generation Z. 2

We have all five generations at the Y – spanning from our Life Governors (Traditionalists) to Gen Zs (entering our workforce) and everything in between - Boomers, Xs & Ys!

Generation Y, as the emergent working generation, has a vastly different way of communicating, a different perspective on work, and a different set of needs and values than those who dominate the current workforce. With the current trend of young people frequently changing jobs and feeling unfulfilled by the work they do, Generation Y needs guidance, leadership, and mentoring in order to become the professionals the workforce needs. In order for this to happen, older generations have to take those leadership roles now. The major issue is that there is a drastic difference in generational characteristics, values, needs, and communication practices between older generations and Generation Y.” These differences also pose challenges with Generation Y’s (or Millennials) managing Generation Xs or Baby Boomers.

As leaders of YMCAs across Australia, we stand for young people, and need to be committed to embracing intergenerational leadership as an organizational culture. Some of our Gen Ys have said of their experiences of intergenerational leadership at the Y so far, “It hasn’t always been easy, it’s been messy, it’s been challenging” and perhaps that’s the way it will continue…. Here are our thoughts, from a Gen X and two Millennials working together, and what we’ve learnt along the way about intergenerational leadership and how it can work best in an organization.3

It’s a chance for us all to listen to and understand each other. Decision-makers need to really listen to young people, not tokenistically. It may be messy, challenging and uncomfortable.

It’s about empathy, walking in a young person’s shoes when you’re older, and vice versa.

It’s about changing your practice. There has to be cultural and behavioral change to the way we practice.

It’s about removing hierarchial structures. Respect of position and decision-making authority doesn’t over-ride the value of each individual and their contribution and ideas.

It’s about respecting each other’s competencies. There should be a two way equation of respect.

It’s about equal playing fields. It’s about teaching and being taught, mentor/mentee relationships work well in reverse as well.

It’s about making sure everyone has a voice. It’s about being heard. For young people, sometimes they can be intimidated to share a great idea or insight. We need to make sure that it’s not just the confident louder voices that are heard, and as leaders, we don’t dominate the time we have with them.

It’s about getting better at working together. Collaboration between older people and younger people is key. It doesn’t work to think that one cohort has all the answers.

It’s a skill. It’s something we need to practice. We’re never going to be good at it, unless we practice it.

Gayle Ruddick’s study found that Generation Y desire directive and consultative leadership communication yet they want to be autonomous when working while still craving praise and guidance. This paradox in desired leadership is a result of Generation Y’s orientations and needs, which are very different than those of older generations. This study found that leadership is wanted among Generation Y. Leaders have to establish personal relationships founded in trust and adapt on a situation-by-situation basis to successfully communicate with Generation Y.2

Intergenerational equity grants a favorable climate between generations and alleviates frictions arising from the negative impacts of intergenerational inequity.4

With our current insights and findings, I want to challenge you all to practice intergenerational leadership, and intergenerational equity, and to make sure it becomes part of your organizational culture. It’s vital for the next generations of our future leaders.  

1. Intergenerational Collisions and Leadership in the 21st Century Creator, Haeger, Donna L. & Lingham, Tony.

2. Intergenerational leadership communication in the workplace, Ruddick, Gayle; Williams, Sean; Haynes, Cynthia; Walters, Shannon.

3. Insights from Melinda Crole (CEO, YMCA Australia); Georgie Nichol (YMCA Change Agent); and Jonathon Santamaria (Director YMCA Global Study).

4. Intergenerational Leadership: Coordinating Common Goods and Economic Stability Creator Puaschunder, Julia.