You are the Millennial Generation; 80 million strong, and the most confident, competent generation in history. You are exactly who Baby Boomers raised you to be…the most energetic, knowledgeable, and game-changing workforce to darken business doorways since the industrial revolution. Time and data are on your side, and rapidly shifting workforce demographics are calling you into leadership positions at a much younger age than your Baby Boomer and Gen X predecessors. For the most part, you’re ready. Life itself equipped you for 21st Century leadership; your helicopter parents taught you to lay out a strategy and plan for success, and rapid advances in technology developed your uncanny ability to adapt in flight and multitask with flawless ease. BUT….you’re still missing a critical attribute. You need gut instinct, and the best place to get it is from the Baby Boomers whose expectations are, in your vernacular, right out of the dark ages.
That’s right. The very generation that has a tendency to label you entitled, lazy, and disrespectful is the one that holds the seasoned knowledge you need. And as luck, or karma, would have it, the ONE thing they are doing faster than you, is leaving the workforce…at the rate of 10,000 per day. You need to spend some quality time with them, so put down your resume and listen up. It’s time for you to understand the Baby Boomer perspective, respect what makes them unique, and absorb their wisdom before they retire.
With over 30 years of experience, Baby Boomers hold a disproportionate amount of what the old-timers (born by 1964), refer to as tribal knowledge. I’m not talking about the cerebral space-filler type of knowledge mined from text books, company archives, or the Google. I’m talking about gut instinct; the ability to balance data with seasoned expertise and use gut feeling to make the right decision. Without question, data is a critical tool, but research confirms that over 60% of executives often rely on gut feelings to make big decisions; and in a world where timely decisions are a competitive advantage, you need proven instincts to stay ahead of the game. Gut instinct is passed down first-hand from generation to generation by being present to see, hear, and feel the thought process while decisions are being made. That’s why getting past the cultural expectations that have created conflict between Millennials and Baby Boomers is necessary to develop your instincts.
Every day is an opportunity for you to take the first step: Understand the Baby Boomer perspective. Just as with your generation, Baby Boomers are a product of the significant cultural events that shaped how they view the world. Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. Today they are between 51 and 69 years old, and the expectations they have of you in the workplace are actually the same ones that catapulted them to success. With expectations set by The Civil Rights Movement, Space Travel, the Vietnam War, the American Dream, and High Divorce Rates, Baby Boomers entered the workforce as the “first” largest generation (78 million) in history; and the impact of these key influencers was manifested in multiple workplace behaviors, including Work Ethic, Work Environment and View of Authority.
Work Ethic. Baby Boomers are often described as workaholics whose self-worth is somehow tied to the number of hours they work each week. As the generation that invented the 60-hour work week, it is not uncommon to hear Baby Boomers bragging openly and one-upping one another in verbal combat regarding the number of hours they work. Here’s why: As the “first” largest generation in history, Baby Boomers launched their careers in an extremely competitive job market. As the last generation to be promised The American Dream, Baby Boomers differentiated themselves by working harder and longer than their competition. “Presence = Productivity”, was (and still is in some companies) a governing principle of success, and only replaceable people left the job site before the boss.
Work Environment. Baby Boomers prefer a flat organizational hierarchy that invites input from a variety of people and supports fair employment opportunity practices. The reasons are simple: The Civil Rights Movement taught them that everybody matters; the Vietnam War demonstrated the destructive outcomes of divided leadership; and Space Travel demonstrated the power of teamwork. From these life lessons, Baby Boomers flattened the organizational hierarchy and replaced the command and control methods of their predecessors with consensus-driven decision making. With the highest divorce rates in history, Baby Boomer women entered the workforce in record numbers, with unrelenting demands for equal pay and equal opportunity that significantly altered employment practices.
View of Authority. Two things to know about the way Baby Boomers view authority. First, they are impressed by titles and positions. They know what it takes to ascend the corporate ladder, and they will respect and acknowledge the accomplishment. Second, in the Baby Boomer world, Time = Authority. Many people from this generation went straight to work after high school and literally worked their way up from the bottom. While they might or might not carry a title that reflects their knowledge, they are typically respected by Baby Boomers who understand the depth and breadth of the contribution they have made to the business. Deferring to their obvious authority is just good common sense.
As a member of the Millennial Generation, opportunity is the environment you operate in every day. Most of what you need, you will literally find at your fingertips, but gut instinct is different. As a 21st Century leader, the world will move even faster than it does today, and the fluid environment that you will operate in can escalate from Level 1 to Level 6 in nanoseconds. That’s when the instinct you learned from the Baby Boomer generation will be the thing that catapults you to success. Now’s the time to absorb that wisdom, and understanding why they view the workplace so differently than you is a great place to start.