6 Tips for Millennials Who Lead Older Generations

Posted on: 02/16/12 12:17 PM | by Jonathan McKee

GUEST POST from Tom McKee, president and founder of VolunteerPower.com. Tom speaks and trains, equipping volunteer managers around the U.S. He co-authored the book, The New Breed with me– he’s the true brains behind the book. But most importantly, he’s my dad… better known as “Papa” to my kids!

We’ve seen countless articles about how to recruit, lead or manage this younger generation. What about when the roles are reversed?

Last month, in response to an article I wrote about managing the texting generation, Kristen, a 28-year-old, texting pastor, who was using the principles from my book, The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer, wrote me and asked, “How do those of us in the “texting generation” lead and empower the older volunteers?”

Kristen asks a great question. I commend her for wanting to better understand other generational perspectives. Too many leaders are stuck in their own generational silos and never want to venture out to new leadership methods, and/or they want every other generation to adapt to their leadership method.

How can Kristen’s generation lead and manage my generation? After all, I’m already collecting social security. I was born before people had TV sets in their home. My generation can tell you exactly where we were when Kennedy was shot, Reagan was shot, and the two towers fell. We have life experience. We know it all… right?

I have six suggestions for Kristen and other young leaders about better understanding other generational perspectives and how to lead and empower across generational lines.

Six Ways To Lead Older Generations… without Stepping on Their Toes

 1. Be patient with my generation:
We often are late adopters. You are talking about change. Today change is happening so fast that we are often overwhelmed. And as William Bridges says, “It’s not the change that does us in—it’s the transition.” We will get there, but the transition is sometimes slow.

 2.    List the Positives:
Try this communication exercise. If you ever are leading a discussion, divide the group up into classic generational groups – Millennials, Gen-Xers, Boomers, etc.  Then ask each group to come up with a list of what the other generational groups in the room bring to your organization/church and what you can learn from them. When you frame the question in this positive way, it is exciting to hear each group praise each other rather than gripe about each other. This discussion can often be a foundation to understanding. Listening and understanding are the beginning to serving each other.

3.    Provide Flexible Communication Options:
Give everyone several options to communicate: printed page, telephone, e-mail, text, Twitter, Facebook. Airlines have learned this trick. They give me the option of phones, email or text to inform me of my upcoming flights. My HMO does the same for my appointments. Generations need to stop forcing other generations to conform. Provide options. We’ll slowly adapt. But let me not get ahead of myself…

4.    Give Us Motivation to Adapt to Technology:
The greatest influence on my generation is our grandchildren. Do you know why I started texting?  I sent an e-mail to my 16 year old granddaughter. She didn’t answer so I asked her, “Alyssa, did you get my e-mail?” She chuckled, “Papa, e-mail is so old school. I hardly ever check my e-mail. Either text me or send me a message on Facebook.” So I started texting to keep in touch with my granddaughter, and now I text all the time. Thank you Alyssa for bringing me into the 21st century.

5.    Adapt Your Communication Style:
As a communicator we must remember to consider our audience. That is why I commend you for wanting to better understand your older generational perspective. So often I want my listeners to adopt my method of framing the message, when in actuality I need to use my listener’s communication style to make sure I get my message across. If I want to make my point to someone who doesn’t speak English, I can’t expect them to learn English. I need to learn their language or get a translator.

Frequently we make this mistake with other generations. If I want someone from the “texting generation” to get my message, I need to adapt my communication style. And if you want someone from my generation to get your message, you need to adopt your communication style to our style. You might need to sit me down and talk to me over breakfast—face to face. Turn off your cell phone for 30 minutes, listen to stories about my trip to Greece, look at pictures of my grandkids. Don’t try to Skype me for 3 minutes and think you have me on board. (By the way, your generation actually likes this kind of face to face attention too… many of them just don’t know it.)

6.    Empower Me:
I love the way Kristen asked, “how can I lead and empower?” None of us want to be micro managed, no matter what generation. As a young leader, when you give me the opportunity to lead a project or event for you, sit down with me (I love meeting at Starbucks), and we can define the three elements of event management—(1) the scope of the event, (2) the budget that I have to work with and (3) the schedule—when each stage needs to be done.

Once we have defined those three elements together, then empower me to get it done. That means you turn me loose to follow those three guidelines and get it done. I can recruit my team and make it happen. And when you check in with me to see how it is going, ask the empowerment questions, (1) How is it going?  (2) How I help you? When you ask me that second question you are demonstrating to me that you want to help me in away way you can to make it happen. You are demonstrating that you are a team player—not a boss.

Perhaps you have caught a theme to my answer to Kristen’s question—it is communication. Communication is a constant challenge and the methods are changing almost daily.

Today it’s texting, Facebooking, and microblogging. In ten to twenty years all those 20-somethings will be trying to get you to communicate through a whole new medium, and who knows what that will be. Just pray that they will be as sharp of a leader as Kristen and actually want to understand your perspective.

Tom McKee is co-author of The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer. When Tom isn’t hanging out with his grandkids, he’s speaking or training across the U.S., equipping volunteer managers and leaders. Tom and his wife Susie live in Northern California, within driving distance from their 5 grandkids.

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3 Replies to “6 Tips for Millennials Who Lead Older Generations”

  1. Woohoo! Loving this–from my generation point of view! I figured out why I don’t recognize the iphones/pads/etc. As soon as I learn about this latest one and new latest latest is up and running and I have to learn it all over again. I’ll just wait a year or so and MAYBE learn the latest of the latest of the latest . . . .

  2. Thank you , Tom! I just inherited 2 new employees that are 65 and I’m trying/learning how to communicate more effectively for sure — completely different world that the 30ish crowd I had before. These thoughts and tips are perfect!

  3. Dad (Tom McKee) just left for Uganda to train 60 African pastors. Really excited for him! He’ll be trying to check the comments sporadically if/when he finds some internet access.

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