The Sharpening Stone – Leading across Generations

There has been progress made in organizations the past few years addressing diversity of various types: Ethnic, Gender, and Income.  However, there is another kind of diversity that only 8 percent of organizations even recognize; and that is; Generational Diversity.

For the first time in history, four(4) generations find themselves working alongside one another in organizations, and this has created a significant challenge.  Older and younger generations working on a team can feel like a tug-of-war.  Lines are drawn in the sand on how to get things done and working together can be difficult.

But there is good news – there is strength in diversity.  And it’s our job as leaders to find those strengths and maximize them.  Even within generations, there are individual differences.  Our goal in this is not to stereotype, but to understand.  The best leaders understand that we must read our people before we lead our people.  When we listen and learn, we grow in empathy.  Valuing other people and adding value to them is the foundation of relationships.  We do this by seeing strengths in the differences in others.

Let’s look at the generations and the strengths that they bring:

  • Boomers (Born 1946-1964): They bring life experiences and awareness of pitfalls that can benefit younger generations
  • Baby Busters, or GenX (Born 1965-1982): They have realistic perspectives and tend to be practical and resourceful
  • Millennials (Born 1983-1996): They bring energy and confidence along with tech savviness and social connections
  • GenZ (Born 1997-2015): They bring an entrepreneurial, cause-oriented mindset with a fresh view that can benefit older generations

So as a leader, how do you help the older and younger generations in your organization to work better together and to leverage their strengths?

One essential is that relationships must be established. The younger the generation, the more important relationship-building becomes.  According to a recent Barna Group Study: “GenZ trusts older generations more than any other social institution”. GenZ may not trust institutions, but they might trust you.


To help with recognizing differences and building relationships, I would suggest an activity that author Patrick Lencioni developed to help team members build trust and find common ground.  Each person on a team prepares a slide with photos and answers the following 3 questions:

  • Where did you grow up?
  • How many siblings do you have, and where do you fall in that order?
  • Describe a unique or interesting challenge or experience that shaped who you are.

This activity gives team members an opportunity to demonstrate vulnerability in a low-risk way and help understand one another.

Cultivating relationships among younger and older generations is crucial – so Go First!  Be that Leader that bridges the generational gap, and your organization will be better and stronger because of it!

About the Author: Steve Erb

Steve is a graduate of Purdue University where he received his Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics / Statistics, and Villanova University, where he received his MBA. Steve’s career has included senior leadership positions with two Fortune500 companies in Procurement, Logistics, Supply Chain, and Operations. Steve also built out the Organizational Development/HR department for a software technology firm and was a key part of seven (7) acquisitions over a 2-year period; as well as developing a successful compensation strategy and structure.

Steve’s expertise lies in developing operations strategies that eliminate redundancies; streamline processes/systems; and deliver productivity, quality, and efficiency gains. Steve has a proven reputation for caring for employees and teams, resulting in an overriding “Servant Leadership” mentality that transforms company cultures and creates a sense of employee engagement and accountability. Steve is also known for his change management expertise and ability to gain credibility to align performance drivers, customer expectations, and initiate continuous improvement across multi-site operations.

The Sharpening Stone

The Sharpening Stone is a series of short videos from True Edge designed to sharpen leaders and their organizations.

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