Talking 'Bout My Generation...
August 7, 2015
John E. Smith
The Strategic Learning Group LLC
Topicsgenerations, Leadership, Management
I like a good discussion.
Recently, I have responded to several questions about generational differences and leadership in the workplace on various forums.
This topic has had my attention over the years.
I am sharing an edited and expanded version of my thoughts below.
- I am only talking about differences which can be demonstrated and measured by objective means. I don't care what a pop culture meme says about any groups.
- I am referencing the United States in my comments. All bets are off regarding generational differences when we extend this discussion to a hemispheric or global level.
Three Compelling Reasons Why This Is Important
- We now have five generations mixing in the same workplace. This is not creating a competition for jobs among the generations, as some have claimed, because significant differences exist between generations based on general experience level, skill sets acquired, and the rapidly changing world of jobs. My grandchildren will compete for jobs which I cannot name at this time. The skills they may need to compete are not yet identified. The challenges they may face are unknown to us all.
- Generational generalizations are generally, general. In other words, any attempt to describe a cohort of millions of people will be both very accurate and very inaccurate. When I describe my fellow Early Boomers, born 1946 to 1956, I can fairly say both that we were inspired by political events and the Vietnam War. However, some of us wore a uniform and served, while others railed against any military connections. Some of us became outrageously conservative as we aged, and others became hysterically liberal , in all cases based somewhat on how we experienced those early shaping events.
- While we work with others who have characteristics of whatever groups to which they belong, we always end up interacting with an individual who might be as unique and different from the generational description as we all know we are. Recognizing our uniqueness is easy for us when we think about ourselves, but becomes much more difficult as we consider others, and the further away from US the others are, the harder it is to see them as individuals.
Generalizations, if accurate, are valuable for the broad view of a group of individuals. While all members of any group, generation, or identity do not fit the accepted description, we can still use these high-level views for general purposes. If it is true of most, we can make some general assumptions based on that.
Generational events is a sociological term for those major happenings that occur and leave a lasting impact upon a generation, especially for those who are adolescents and young adults, roughly 13-to-25 years old at the time of the event. We are at a particularly impressionable place in our human development during those years and things etch themselves more deeply on our minds, our hearts, and our souls.
However, at some point, we have to start focusing on sub-groups. The Vietnam War affected most of my generation, but not in the same way. A world of difference exists between my fellow Boomers who were in uniform and those who protested during this turbulent time. I also notice that every generation has Liberals and Conservatives, albeit in different percentages and with different issues.
Eventually, or sooner if our work requires us to deal with individuals, we come face to face with a person who is a member of some identified generation, but is a breathing and unique individual. Nobody fits the generational generalizations to a "T".
In my opinion and based on my experiences, avoiding assumptions at all levels, but especially at the individual relationship level is very important.
I found your discussion of generational events interesting. I have always broken down the current workplace generations as: those who remember Pearl Harbor, those who remember the assassination of Pres. Kennedy, those who remember the Challenger Explosion and those who remember 9/11. I think the where were you when question that defines a generation also can be what shapes us as a group.
Hi, Bonnie – thanks for commenting.
That was one of my points in a way. While everyone who is alive and at least a certain age remembers these critical events, they don’t all remember them in the same way. For example, when 9/11 occurred, I was a middle-aged middle manager at a social services agency, while my two sons were both in their young adulthood (military age). I did not experience personal fear duirng those first few days, but I was very scared for both of them, especially since I was afraid that they might do something premature in the excitement of the moment.
It’s also interesting to revisit our earlier memories and concdeptions of a historical event and see how age changes our emotions and perception of what has happened.
You are absolutely right that these generational events shape us as a group, if you are talking about the generation to which you belong.
It is too easy to get caught up in generalizations. Agree with you completely! We need to understand context and, most importantly, we need to share experiences. No matter our age, we have something another person can learn from and become a stronger leader. By doing this, we will create a stronger future, no matter our generation.
Thanks for sparking a good conversation!
Hi, Jon – thanks for commenting:)
You are right on regarding the value of sharing experiences. Some of my most insightful moments have come while sharing and listening to others. I find value both in the views of someone from a different generalizational grouping and from someone of my age (more or less) who has experienced life differently.
A sidebar: In other job, I spent a lot of time in and around residential facilities for older adults. Being youngish and relatively active, I tended to disregard those older residents as caricatures. At some point, our facilities started creating “memory boards” by the entrance to each person’s apartment, which were filled with photographs and other memorabilia.
This served a dual purpose: the immediate need was to help those whose mental capacities were diminishing to remember where they live, by putting familiar and important images by the entrance. The “uber” result was that anyone passing by gained a much fuller and richer perception of those who dwelt within.
We were all reminded that we were looking at a life, full of events, meaning, and love … not just a person who is at the end of the trail. We were encouraged to ask and listen to stories that sometimes took my breath away.
You are right … we all need to share and listen more often:)
I love what you did with the memory boards. What a great way to create a visual story of all the good work done. We should do this more in our workplaces, too.