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Empathetic Leadership in a Multi-Generational Workforce

By Megan Finley

Leading an age-diverse team can pose unique challenges to corporate training. However, that strain shrinks when empathy is fostered among company leadership. Three different generations currently make up the core of the workforce. Baby boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y (Millennials) each bring their own value-sets to the workplace. The Canadian Center of Science found this “creates problems among team members that ultimately result in reduced effectiveness.” So, by studying the key differentiating traits between generations, you can build leadership training to help your leaders better understand their subordinates and create more personalized management plans.

Key Generational Traits

Baby Boomers (1946-1964)

Baby boomers are often receptive to active traditional leadership, valuing honesty and responsibility. They attach to environments that value and respect their life experiences and capabilities.

Characteristics:

  • Flexible work options
  • Value leadership and direction
  • Appreciate praise for their achievements
  • Retirement-focused

Possible challenges:

  • Less familiar with modern technology
  • Prefer hands-on mentoring and training
  • Believe in a participative style of leadership

Generation X (1965-1980)

Generation X—the second-largest group in today’s workforce—consists of less traditional employees than their predecessors. These individuals tend to thrive in a work setting that allows them to be progressively focused, employee-centered, and collaborative.

Characteristics:

  • Less formal than predecessors
  • Favor outcomes over methods
  • Independent
  • Entrepreneurial

Possible challenges:

  • Prefer a less hierarchical leadership
  • Resent repetitive tasks/quality checks
  • Wish to be involved in decision-making processes

Millennials (1980-2000)Millennials, who currently comprise the majority of people in the labor force, continue to stream into the work pool at a rapid rate. This group is described as “self-absorbed, self-reliant, with a strong sense of independence and autonomy.”

Characteristics:

  • Technologically familiar
  • Desire greater work flexibility
  • Prefer teamwork
  • Opinionated

Possible challenges:

  • Value choice over direction
  • Favor a relaxed, ‘fun’ workplace
  • Lean toward project-centered (as opposed to individual) tasks

How to Practice Empathetic LeadershipEmpathetic leadership—which describes the ability to understand and support employees with increased emotional intelligence—can act as a bridge between generations. As leaders acknowledge the internalized value sets that drive their employees and seek to facilitate these needs, they demonstrate the type of behavior that fosters long-lasting, effective teamwork.

Here are some practical skills and behaviors to consider as you design your employee training program for empathetic leadership.

  1. Refuse to entertain false or negative stereotypes. Several studies identify trends within generational approaches to work, but they are not a ‘one size fits all’.
  2. Practice active listening.
  3. Form personal bonds.

Conclusion

While the notion of committing to empathetic leadership training can seem like a drain on one’s personal time and resources, it is nonetheless vital to conflict resolution in the multi-generational workforce (and performance improvement in general). Accommodating for these generational gaps is not only harmonizing but a smart business move, allowing the leadership model to work for its employees.

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