If you’re helming a generationally diverse group of professionals, here are a few tips to ensure that the age differences are helping rather than hurting your progress.
1. Shift from the “D” to the “I” in DEI
Diversity is easy. It’s a numbers game. Equity is similar. Balance salaries, schedules, and responsibilities, and, hey presto! You’ve checked all the boxes.
Age-related inclusivity requires a deliberate willingness to build healthy relationships between you and your team members. You must set an inclusive tone through your own interactions. One of my favorite approaches to establishing this inclusivity is what author Michael Bungay Stanier refers to as the “keystone conversation” in his book How to Work with (Almost) Anyone.
This is an initial interaction that a boss has with their team members. It establishes precedence and opens up lines of communication. It lays the groundwork for the relationship to stay healthy, bear stress, and even grow.
By using keystone conversations and striving to set a tone of inclusivity and openness, a leader encourages their team members to do the same. Over time, dozens of inclusive keystone conversations will help you develop an open, trusting team culture that brings the best out of everyone.
2. Study Your Team Members
It may sound odd to put your team members under a microscope. But as a leader, that’s part of the deal. I like to think of it in terms of professional sports. A good coach is able to lift up and inspire their players. But they also need to be able to analyze them — at a nitty-gritty level.
Much of the transformation comes from dynamic playmaking on the field. However, savvy sports analysts also consistently note the fact that the arrival of McDermott and Beane six years ago sparked a major culture change for the team. Beane, in particular, amassed a reputation as a man who could assess not just young talent but how each new player fit into the larger organization alongside older players, too.
As a leader, you need to hone that ability to merge analysis with gut instinct. You must take the time to study the strengths, weaknesses, and nuances of both younger and older generations. Compare and contrast priorities and proclivities. This gives you invaluable insights that help you include and validate everyone on your team, no matter what their age may be.
3. Don’t Play Favorites
When I read associate editor Emma Waldman’s breakdown of the Harvard Business Review’s top ways to lead multi-generational teams, I found the list was pretty vanilla, to be honest. It listed ways to address classic age-related issues in the workplace.
Don’t let harmful stereotypes sneak into the conversation. Keep lines of communication open. Respect boundaries. All good stuff, but it was obvious.
You can deliberately have inclusive conversations, research generational specifics, communicate, avoid stereotypes, and so on. But it’s hard not to think of things through your generationally nurtured point of view. It’s a default that is always on — unless a leader chooses to turn it off.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic formula for this one. It takes consistency and practice. If you’re leading a group of multiple generations, you need to start by realizing that even you, their leader, are part of one of those age groups. From there, you need to consciously shut down the natural desire to play favorites within your age group, not just once but every day.
So look at your current situation. Where are your team’s age-related issues causing tension? If you can prioritize inclusivity, study your team members, and resist playing favorites, you can avoid the negative elements and capitalize on the powerful benefits that come from leading a generationally diverse team.