Generational Genius: How Servant Leadership Unlocks the Strengths of a Multigenerational Workforce

It’s possible for a manager today to oversee up to five generations in the workforce: everyone from Traditionalists born before the end of World War II to Generation Z. Over the past 35 years, the share of older working Americans has doubled, and soon the workforce will welcome Generation Alpha, emerging from the era of artificial intelligence and fully remote classrooms. Each generation has been shaped by unique experiences and values—and may feel supported and motivated by a supervisor in distinct ways. Differing perspectives on success, responsibility, motivation, conflict management, and work engagement can cause significant friction among intergenerational teams. 

GenerationAscribed Values
Traditionalists (1922-1945)Helpfulness, loyalty
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)Loyalty, dedication, hard work
Gen X (1965-1980)Productivity, friendly/flexible workplaces
Gen Y/Millennials (1981-1996)Meaning, growth, creativity
Generation Z (1997-2012)Authenticity, truth, and connectivity

These summaries of values and motivations are, of course, generalizations and oversimplifications, but they speak to what can become a challenging workplace dynamic. Attempting to be all things to all people can feel dizzying for supervisors, unless we keep our gaze fixed on something steady and unchanging. The principles underlying servant leadership offer a firm focal point and a strategy for empowering multigenerational workforces.  

Across the board, workers want to be respected and motivated in their work. What leads to those feelings can vary broadly, but servant leaders are well positioned to find out as they lead with curiosity, compassion, and collaboration. It won’t be our ability to categorize our team members into neatly defined boxes that matters but rather our ability to treat each employee as the individual he/she is, with unique values and motivations as well as gifts. 

Servant leaders are inherently curious to know their teams and colleagues better, fostering meaningful relationships that allow us to see others’ unique giftings and potential. Servant leadership opens us up to the many possibilities and gifts of inter-generational teams, reframing our perspective from the potential challenges to the rich rewards of generational diversity.

Based on the 10 Keys of Effective Supervision, here are three practices of servant leadership we can implement today to lead a multigenerational workforce well:

  1. From Key #2, Uniting Your Team: Be curious about your team. Include time in 1:1s or team meetings to ask meaningful questions about what motivates your team. Consider a question like, “How do our company’s values align with your personal values?”
  2. From Key #4 Expecting Excellence: On-board and train new team members with your mission and purpose in mind. Schedule regular times for feedback and encouragement as you learn what their motivations and preferences are. You may observe generational differences in what behavior employees consider “excellent.” For example, a Baby Boomer may think excellence means avoiding calling in sick at all costs, while a Gen Z-er thinks responding to texts or emails immediately is excellent. By defining what excellence looks like in your setting and clearly communicating that to your team members, you are setting them up for success. 
  3. From Key #9, Optimizing Ownership: Provide opportunities, projects, and bandwidth for staff to contribute. Aim for a sense of taking ownership, rather than mere engagement. Allow employees to take up a passion project or seek out professional development that really brings their strengths to life in service of the organization. 

We’d love to help you learn more about a servant leadership approach to motivating and leading your team to optimize personal and generational giftings. Reach out to Rising Sun about how our leadership coaching can help you engage and empower your multigenerational workforce. 



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