Multi-Generational Leadership by Wagner NYU

view original / wagner.nyu.edu

blogger’s note: Something I have been pondering for years… and honestly generational issues truly fascinate me.  Culture tells the story of YOUR time, YOUR history, what impact a generation as we grow and mature.  In the military, politics, and I am sure in business…we are at a juncture…Baby Boomers staying loungers, but retiring, Gen X stepping into executive positions…but we are a small generation…and the millennials….probably one of the most exciting generations ever…can’t wait to see what happens!

Honoring Legacies and Supporting Innovation: The Multi-generational Landscape of Leadership

May 2009

On April 13, a diverse group of Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers, and Millenials working for social change came together to explore multi-generational leadership in the nonprofit sector. The learning session, one of a series through RCLA’s Social Change Leadership Network, was a chance for participants to work within their generation and across generations to better understand themselves and how to work with each other.

In an interactive exercise, participants identified key values for people born between 1946 and 1964 (Baby Boomers); 1965 and 1980 (Gen X-ers); and 1981 and 2003 (Millenials/Gen Y-ers) by answering the following questions:

1) What do we do best?
2) What is important to us?
3) What challenges or pressures do we face?

Participants then role-played to answer these same questions from the first-person perspective of the two other generations. This dynamic exchange revealed some surprising perceptions participants had of each other and allowed participants to clarify misperceptions and false projections about their generational values.

Generational Perceptions

Below are six word clouds, or Wordles, that capture the difference between how Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers and Millenials described important values for their generation, followed by how other generations said they perceive them.*

Baby Boomers (Self Perception)
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Baby Boomers (Other People’s Perception)
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Generation X-ers (Self Perception)
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Generation X-ers (Other People’s Perception)
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Generation Y (Self Perception)
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Generation Y (Other People’s Perception)
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Preparing for Organizational Leadership Shifts

Frances Kunreuther, project director of the Building Movement Project and co-author ofWorking Across Generations: Defining the Future of Nonprofit Leadership, with Helen Kim and Robby Rodriguez, gave a presentation that further stressed the importance of better understanding the multi-generational issues nonprofit staff members face and thinking about solutions that reflect the different values among the various generations represented in nonprofit leadership.

Due in part to the global economic slump, the retirement of Baby Boomers from executive director and other senior positions that was highly anticipated by many in the sector has not materialized. With more stories indicating that Boomers are staying, the implications for all generations are multi-fold. Directors need to be able to tap the experience, wisdom and innovative enterprise of different age groups within their organizations and networks to effectively deliver on their missions. Younger staff members need to remain engaged and continue to develop their leadership capacity, skills and know-how, despite the fact that top-level positions are not opening up. A large-scale leadership shift also remains a possibility in coming years, meaning that nonprofits may need to change the way they operate to encourage more people to be willing to take on top posts as well as to avoid burning out staff at all levels. The discussion raised questions including:

  • As Baby Boomers prepare to leave the job market, how are we setting up a pipeline of future nonprofit leaders?
  • How are we ensuring that Baby Boomers’ wisdom is transferred to the next generation of leaders?
  • Are we prepared to support new leaders and innovation that might look different than what we have now?
  • Are we able to allow for an evolution of organizational structures to reflect the new leadership?

Multigenerational Issues in Transition Moments

The learning session also showcased two live case presentations by Esmeralda Simmons, founder and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice in Brooklyn, New York, and Robby Rodriquez, executive director of the SouthWest Organizing Project and co-author ofWorking Across Generations: Defining the Future of Nonprofit Leadership, with Frances Kunreuther and Helen Kim.

Esmeralda and Robby shared personal stories that demonstrated the critical importance of taking multi-generational issues into account when preparing and undergoing leadership transitions. Both stressed the importance of building trust between the generations as a necessary element in effectively bridging the various skills and perspectives represented by different generations.

New Understanding and Shared Values

At the end of the learning session, participants reflected the rich insights that emerged throughout the day and named personal takeaways to help them work more successfully with other generations.

One Baby Boomer committed to “not just let young people in, [but] set the space for them to succeed.” A Gen X-er emphasized the “importance of trust-building” in multi-generational work, and a Millennial echoed the significance of “institutionalizing mentorship.”

Participants left the learning session eager to explore how to advance and transform issues of multi-generational dynamics into effective organizational structures in social change work. The group also collectively identified the following as key values from all the generations that would enable more effective multi-generational work:

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*Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. Click here for more information or to create your own Wordles.

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