Generational differences are nothing new, but each generation seems to find new ways to separate themselves from their parents. Sometimes it’s intentional as in the Parisian students’ social rebellions of 1968, and sometimes it’s just coincidence and technology that widen the generation gap.
In any event, for leaders to be effective we need to make an attempt to bridge the generational divide and invite the younger generation to do the same. After all, leadership at it’s most basic level is motivating people to accomplish something; and the human “terrain” is no less important than any other piece of “key terrain.”
For example, did you know most people in the millennial generation don’t listen to their voicemail? Ever? And sometimes they don’t even answer the phone! Unlike my generation where a ringing phone was a force of nature to be dealt with now, millennials have grown up with caller ID…they know who’s calling and they decide if you’re important enough to interrupt whatever they’re doing to talk to you.
The following factors influence the mindset of the members of this year’s entering freshman class:
- When they see wire-rimmed glasses, they think Harry Potter, not John Lennon.
- During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they were upset by endlessly repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center.
- Hong Kong has always been part of China.
- Ads for prescription drugs, noting their disturbing side effects, have always flooded the airwaves.
- There has always been a national database of sex offenders.
The young men and women “coming up” this fall are bright, energetic, and ready to take on the world’s problems. As leaders, we can help them reach their goals (and ours) by “getting” where they come from. It shouldn’t be a one-sided affair, however, because youth and energy can’t compete with experience and education. Just like we learned the timeless arts of leadership and adulthood from our fathers and mothers, it’s incumbent upon us to pass those some lessons on to them. The trick here is to bridge the generational difference and present the lesson in a way the student can understand.
UPDATE: A millenial praises voicemail.