Leadership and the diversity of generations

January 2023

In today’s developed society, population life expectancy continues to grow. This presents challenges to business leaders as the workforce comprises people that cross multiple generations; we often hear these described as Generations X, Y and Z. Born in different times, each generation offers different experiences, has different expectations, and different opinions. In this article we will look at the approach business leaders need to take to get the best out of all generations.

Evolving generations

The group we call Generation X is composed of people born between 1965 and 1979. These people experienced the arrival, and subsequent development, of new technologies and the social revolution created by the arrival of women in the workforce. These events disrupted generally accepted norms that had existed in the workplace for many years. This is a generation that had to learn how to adapt and develop new skills just to stay relevant in the workplace.

Generation Y comprises people born between 1980 and 1995. These people entered a more globalised workplace, fuelled by the growth of the Internet that enabled instant communication and multitasking. Shaped by a rapidly changing work environment, these people became hungry for new challenges.

Next came Generation Z, formed by those born between 1996 and 2010. These people only know a world that is completely digital. This is a digital world where everything is connected, that offers easy and rapid access to information, and has created a generation that is largely self-taught and, being used to immediacy, one that expects things right now.

Faced with this multigenerational and diverse workplace, the challenge for business leaders is how to meet their differing needs and expectations and keep each generation motivated.

Diversity brings advantages

A team that comprises multiple generations can bring many advantages. These gains often arise out of differing experience; the older generation can pass its experience on to the younger generations, influencing their behaviour, while the younger and rapidly developing generation can help to influence an older generation that may be more resistant to change. Everyone has the opportunity to gain from everyone else and this enriches the entire team.

To harness the benefits that diversity brings, business leaders must recognise the profiles of the people that make up a team, appreciate their different characteristics, and understand what motivates them. Only by doing this will you see results.

Leading diverse teams

In Brazil, currently the workplace largely comprises Generations X and Y – although Generation Z is arriving in the workplace, many are still in full-time education. Generation Z is largely motivated by stability while Generation Y looks for challenges. This makes it essential for business leaders to recognise these differing needs and characteristics.

A study carried out by Adriel Leal Diniz and others, entitled Leaders’ challenges in driving baby boomers, and X and Y generations in the workplace, tells us that to be a leader, it is necessary to live leadership, and wake up and sleep breathing leadership; it is necessary to disregard humility, understand relationships, and understand and serve people. Antonio Cesar Amaru Maximiano, in the sixth edition of his book General management theory: from the urban revolution to the digital revolution, informs us that ‘…the leader guides the group and encourages everyone to participate. The emphasis is on the leader as well as the group.’

It follows that all business leaders must develop skills that enable them to lead diverse teams, particularly in the area of communication. Further, leadership styles will need to align with the policies and strategies of the wider business. Sometimes this might even vary across internal business areas – where an autocratic style might work in one area, a more open style might be better in another. This decision will be driven by the profile of each team and what you want it to achieve.

If you respect individuality and encourage collaboration, generational differences will complement each other and turn diversity into a force for growth.

About the author

Rosangela Pereira Peixoto
Porto Alegre, Brazil

Rosangela is a regional auditing director at Russell Bedford Brasil.

She is one of the auditing technical directors at the firm and is an accountant and specialist in tax management. Rosangela has 22 years of experience in the area of external auditing and consulting in public and private companies. 

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