9 Jun 2022


Leading in the 21st Century: The Generational Divide

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Leadership is the process of influencing others towards a common goal or objective. A leader’s expectations are to have followers or individuals of a particular group or organization under their guidance and direction to fulfill certain tasks. This role often contradicts with a manager’s role whose purpose is to direct the team’s or individuals’ activities by certain guidelines. However, leaders often perform both duties as they have a responsibility to the organization to create a vision and follow it through (Veleras, 2017). This essay will focus on the roles that Todd, a baby boomer, tackles while conducting everyday business of his firm as the leader. Todd’s company employs people from different generations, baby boomers and millennial, and it is often challenging to handle their attitudes, abilities among other complexities that these individuals portray in the office. 

Leaders and managers perform varied duties and responsibilities. However, leaders find themselves managing others frequently than not. Leadership is accountable to the entire firm whereas management responsibilities are towards the team under their authority. One of the differences between leaders and managers besides their roles is that effective leadership requires formulation of a vision for the firm and the managers’ expectations to understand their leaders’ vision and mission and work towards achieving them crucial. In essence, leaders focus on what is important and why, whereas managers link these ideas by discovering how to meet these expectations and visualizations. 

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Leaders are influencers in the organizations. Leaders and managers may find their roles somewhat contradicting, the efficiencies deployed in each role is vital in distinguishing them. Due to their interconnections, this rapport is distinctive in the details (Veleras, 2017). Leaders are visionary, inspire change, are creative, convincing, confident, risk takers, and abstract thinkers. On the other hand, managers require an absolute command in directing their team by being specific, disciplined, and persistent in teaching and leading their teams in accomplishing their tasks. 

Given these, a common disconnect is evident in 21st-century organizations where employees comprise of the generational divide. In respect to Todd’s firm who is a baby boomer at 55 years of age, he often juggles in meeting deadlines and handling conflict in the office due to the age differences of the members of staff. While the world is continually changing, with technology and globalization demanding alternative leadership and management styles, Todd believes that fundamentals should prevail. Workplace rift and cultures affect productivity and levels of output. For example, research conducted by Maxfield and Grenny (2011) on Baby Boomers (49 – 67 years old) and Millenials (18 – 33 years old) indicated that baby boomers find Millenials with little or no discipline, are easily distracted and lack focus and commitment. Alternatively, Millenials consider Boomers as sexist, cynical, insensible individuals who lack creativity and are resisting change. These findings illustrate the disconnect in these two generational conflicts. 

To understand this generational divide, articulating the varied leadership styles of both age groups is vital in discussing leadership in the 21st century. Todd believes that Baby Boomers respect and expect a particular chain of command. Due to their upbringing, baby boomers believe that education follows employment. While in employment, the way to get to the top, in business or a particular position, one must work hard long hours to achieve their goals. The focus is on a step by step pattern to promotion, sacrifice, eventually leading to self- achievement in their careers and lives. Therefore, Todd demands loyalty, fierceness, team players, tenacious persons who do whatever it takes to get the job done (workaholics) (Veleras, 2017). Additionally, these leaders value ambition, personal gratification and growth, demand respect from the younger generations and work efficiency. All these lead to enjoying life after and flexible retirement. 

On the contrary, however, due to their upbringing, Millenials exude more confidence and enthusiasm in their lives. As leaders, this generation believes in entrepreneurial and diversified careers and stable attributes to get ahead in life (Espinoza & Ukleja, 2016) . The typical pattern followed by their predecessors is outdated since they want to enjoy life and their careers from day one. The flexibility in their attitudes, anticipations, obsessing on career development and focus on achieving a lot in shorter time span, allows them to display traits of creativity, self-driven, goal oriented, tolerance, collaboration, technological awareness, and a sense of purpose all in an Endeavour to live and achieve a real life. 

These differences in the leadership styles in both generations base on their experience, upbringing and beliefs. These variations offer both good and bad lessons in the 21st century. However, it is vital to understand that traits like the traditional hierarchy system provided by the Baby Boomers are archaic in the current world. While the older generation demands of living by the rules and working in a particular way, the Millenials test authority in their entire careers. Additionally, Millenials believe that technology is integral in the workplace and a requirement that allows global networking rather than a tool acquired and only necessary to get the job done. Given work ethics and skill acquisition for the job, Millennials believe that training is essential to obtain the expertise and proficiencies required for task completion while the previous generation support that work-ethics are more important than skills as they allow an individual to experience growth while on the particular task. This divide is evident in Todd’s firm because he expects and commands respect for his responsibilities, career, recognition and authority in the workplace while the Millenials presume themselves as a part of a bigger picture working as a machine towards a common goal. Therefore, they expect respect, teamwork with other creative people in a supportive and structured work environment. 

In light of this, filling this generational gap is crucial to working cohesively as a team driven by clear goals and shared principles and culture. Leaders must accept the changes in the workplace by formulating strategies that allow both generations to work together. Mentorship is one essential element to filling this gap. The younger generations believe that through training and mentorship, they can experience a more favorable attitude (Espinoza & Ukleja, 2016) . Since, the older generation tends to maintain that the means to having a meaningful and fruitful career is working hard and long hours; they can mentor the millennial generation on the skills they have learnt over the years. These programs would encourage the young workers to value the importance of maintaining work schedules and the growth they can experience. Engaging them in groups to offer solutions to certain issues the organization is facing is also important as they tend to work well in groups. In turn, the older generation can learn from the younger ones on the values of exploring and diversifying their options in problem-solving. 

Technology is indispensable in today’s society, business and organizations. Therefore, to interest the older generation that uses PowerPoint presentations and handbooks, the younger generation can interest the older generation in telecommuting and work offsite as options to the traditional long hours in the office. These different approaches to leadership allow for the staff to experience various methods of learning and working better as they engage in producing results and remaining productive rather than how the accomplishment of the tasks occurs. Technology allows for flexibility and with Baby Boomers continually focusing on the presence in the office as a measure of success, telecommuting, for example, allows them to reduce on their workloads. 

The Millennial generation appreciates testing authority on a regular basis to get feedback and to get involved in the decision-making process. This procedure is in contrast to predecessors who prefer the traditional management structure. Hence, leaders in the 21st century should acknowledge the value of open office discussions and collaborations. This trend is compelling to the staff as they become more fluid in presenting their results and opening up to working together (Cheeks, 2017). By solidifying job description expectations from both generations, through unique and individual assignments that lead to personal growth and self-achievements, productivity and efficiency are consequently resultant. 

Communication is critical in solving conflicts in organizations. While trying to form a cohesive team, both generations might often collide due to their beliefs and views of office mannerisms, attitudes and systems of operations. It is thus crucial that leaders identify areas of concern in their diverse organizations. For example, baby boomers believe formal and face to face communication is more pleasant (Cheeks, 2017). This communication style may not apply to Millennials who have shorter concentration spans. Therefore, establishing multiple channels of communication unique to these groups allows professionalism and receiving desired responses. 

In conclusion, bridging the generational gap in the 21st century by leaders is paramount to the success and future progress of organization due to the presence of cross generations in the workplace. Although leaders may often find themselves in different roles as their managers, realizing the difference in their positions establishes a baseline for achieving productive results and maintaining their responsibilities as part of a bigger machine, the firm. Additionally, leaders ought to recognize that with changing times and the world becoming a global community, leadership styles in organizations with the cross-generational factor in its workforce have no option but to adapt. While appreciating the role of both baby boomers and Millenials, their goals, objectives and inspirations are vital in establishing a conducive environment that focuses on producing results rather than spending time dealing with conflicts. By creating flexible work schedules, open office management structures, various communication methods, mentorship and training programs that allow each member of the company, without minding age, not to feel alienated and work together to achieve the organizations’ vision in tandem is the way forward. In essence, with globalization and digitalization the future global leader is the one who appreciates the workplace as an employment practice that with applications such as professional development and physical management style, networking and social interactions scaling firms to the future, the organization’s long-term success is inevitable. 


Cheeks, B. (2017). The Generational Effect: How to Bridge the Gap | GaMEP. Gamep.org. Retrieved 13 July 2017, from http://gamep.org/the-generational-effect-how-to-bridge-the-gap-for-maximum-production-and-minimal-conflict. 

Espinoza, C. & Ukleja, M. (2016) Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today's Workforce. Second edition. Wiley. 

Maxfield, D. & Grenny, G. (2011). Crucial Conversations : Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. McGraw-Hill 

Veleras, E. (2017). Tomorrow’s Leadership Trends: Bridging the Global Generation Gap in Human Resources - HR Daily Advisor. Retrieved 13 July 2017, from http://hrdailyadvisor.blr.com/2017/01/05/tomorrows-leadership-trends-bridging-global-generation-gap-human-resources. 

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