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Mind the Gap: How Generations View Leadership

Posted by on Apr 20, 2017 in Article

There is no universal approach to leadership. The screaming drill sergeant might work with privates going through boot camp, but probably not with sixth graders at your local middle school. Context and situations influence our perspective, which alters how we are motivated and defines how we want to be led.

With that in mind, it is not a surprise that Generations X, Y and Z might view best leadership practices differently–they operate in different contexts because of the differences in how they were raised. The challenge for corporate officers, business managers and HR professionals is to devise a leadership strategy that appeals to everyone, regardless of their generational perspective.

To arrive at that strategy, you need to understand what your different employee constituencies need. Universum undertook a comprehensive, international study investigating generational expectations related to leadership. The results were published in their most recent e-book, “Building leaders for the next decade.” Here are a few of their insights.

Differences Between Generations

Generations X and Y both value open communication and feedback about their work above anything else. Generation Z, on the other hand, prefers a positive attitude over communication. Generations X and Y also expect a positive attitude from their leaders, both finding it the second-most important trait. However, of Generation X–the generation most likely to be leaders among these age cohorts–only 25 percent say they have a positive attitude.

On the other hand, 23 percent of Generation X leaders are proud that they offer “strong personal ethics.” However only 12 percent of Generation Z are even looking for this quality in a leader. This could be because they assume the people they work for have strong ethics or because it’s something they do not find to be important. These small discrepancies in leadership expectations across generations can lead to significant HR problems down the road for any business.

Leadership Approaches Vary Between Men, Women

Different generational points of view are not the only thing with which modern businesses must contend; variances in leadership style between men and women is also a point of concern. The crux of this diversity in management approach ties directly to the motivation men and women have to become leaders.

While men tend to be motivated by status and money, women tend to be motivated by the challenge and desire to mentor others. Given Generations X through Z’s preferences for feedback and positive attitude in the workplace, it is possible that women’s motivations are better aligned with the younger members of the workforce’s leadership needs.

Being a World Leader

Geography can also influence expectations about leadership, and you need to be aware of those pressures if you work for a company with a presence in multiple countries. For example, in Italy only 44 percent of workers desire a leadership role. In India, 77 percent of people desire advancement.

Depending on where you are managing, you have two completely different challenges. In Italy, using a potential promotion as a motivation is less likely to work and you will therefore have to diversify your tactics. In India, potential advancement is a very strong motivator, but there aren’t enough leadership positions to promote everyone. In that situation, the challenge is how to motivate those who won’t be able to advance.

Being aware of the generational, gender and geographic factors is an indispensable first step into developing your own leadership style.

Interested in learning more about Universum’s latest research on Gen X, Y and Z? Click here to Download the your copy of the eBook.

At Universum, we present a data-driven perspective that will help you reach your goals.  If you need help branding yourself as an employer who can bridge these leadership gaps, contact us.