By Cornelius Ndubuisi
“Generational gap” captures the reality that successive generations differ considerably, particularly in value-orientation. When a 20-year-old seats across the table with a 60-year-old, you can bet that they’d naturally struggle to be on the same page, as the seeming superiority complex that comes with age usually come into play. This can also be gleaned from the rather mischievous claim of “good old days” with which some members of older generations bully younger people. And, sadly, they don’t even know where to draw the curtain when it is a leadership arrangement.
In the “new normal,” where everyone, businesses and organizations are running helter-skelter to pick up their pieces in the aftermath of the Corona Virus tsunami, and wherein much of the recovery effort will come from the loyalty, dedication, and productivity of members of the most recent generational cohorts (millennials and generation Z), it is super-important that those leading them get to know the unwritten rules of such engagement. By the way, while Generation Y or millennials are those born between 1981 and 1996, Generation Z are those born between 1995 and 2015 (this classification varies, though).
Let’s take-off from here: “No one tears off a piece of a new garment to make a patch for an old one. Not only will the new garment be ruined, but the old garment will look worse with a new patch on it! And no one puts new wine into old wineskins, for the new wine bursts the old skins, ruining the skins and spilling the wine. New wine must be put into new wineskins. But no one after drinking the old wine seems to want the fresh and the new. “The old ways are best,” they say.”
Those were the very words of Jesus Christ (recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke, chapter five, verses thirty-six to thirty-nine). In those words, we find nuggets of wisdom for leadership excellence, especially in cases where “age” plays leader to “youth.” No doubt, an older person comes to the table with the wisdom garnered from myriads and varieties of experiences, but younger people have a way of stopping their ears to even words of wisdom when certain things about them are taken for granted.
And so, older people in leadership arrangements must be especially careful. They must be careful because “old patch on a new garment rarely looks good,” plus the fact that “new wine in old wineskins bursts!” Concerted effort must be continually made to bridge the generational gap, since leadership is more influential than positional. The leader who is to wield ‘real’ and enormous influence over youth must keep to the following unwritten rules of engagement:
- Give reasons; explain:They really don’t mind ‘what’ it is you want them to do, but they care about ‘why’ you want them (in particular) to do it. It is typical of youths to want to know ‘why this’ and not ‘that,’ ‘why him’ and not ‘her,’ ‘why us’ and not ‘them,’ ‘why there’ and not ‘here.’ The point is that your directive is not enough; go on to explain why things should be the way you want them to be. Some older people think they don’t owe younger people explanations. Too bad. It used to be that way in the days of our fathers, but not now. Of course, they’d do it your way if you insist, but be sure they’re not comfortable with you.
- Know the trends – and showcase that knowledge: Youths are trend-freaks. You can be sure that something is trending for them at every point in time: fashion, music, hairdo, celebrity, gadget, slangs, and what have you. It will do you a lot of good if you’re in the know of the “what’s ups” in town. By knowing what’s trending, you create the impression that you’re “on point” and up-to-date. And there is just a way they reward you for this by being more open and friendly towards you.
- Thank. Appeal:Most older people rarely think they owe younger people an apology. They hesitate to say thank you because they feel they deserve things. They don’t get to beg because of their entitlement mentality. There’s this annoying way they feel their successor-generation owe them the dues they paid their predecessor-generation. Who cares! If anyone does, that wouldn’t be the average millennial or Gen Z. For God’s sake, apologize when you offend them, thank them when they do things for you, and appeal to them when you need them to do you a favour. Guess what? Your influence-rating will soar.
- Don’t threaten; speak to reason:Of course, they’d make tons of mistakes, usually because they’re distracted more often than not. When they do, as they always will, don’t be so red at them that you’re all threats. Guess what? Those threats mean little to them; they already know the most you can do and really don’t need you to remind them of that. Do they even care about what you’d do to them? They rarely do. Instead, conscientize them; speak to their sense of reason. You want them to feel real remorse for what they’ve done? The easiest way to get them to do so is to give them a reason to choose to do so. Remind them of how exceptional they’ve been and how what they’ve now done betrays their past and makes it all look like pretense. That would do.
- Don’t compare:You need to see some older people compare their own generation with that of the younger generation. They make it look like it used to be just like heaven on earth. To say the least, such comparisons are not only grossly uncalled for but annoying. Truth is, there was never a better generation and will never be; every generation only gets to respond to the changes that greet them while exploring their possibilities. Yes, gone are those days! Welcome to the now! And don’t even draw comparisons between people. That’s uncalled for, too. Individuals are both unique and differentially talented.
- Feign confused; ask for help:Youths lock up against the know-it-all kind of people. And many older people are especially good at priding themselves as capable of always answering every question, clearing every doubt, calming every fear, and solving every problem. How then will the youth feel relevant? Why not give them opportunities to laugh at you by expressing ignorance over a seemingly easy question? Why not ask for help, which gives the impression that you too can be helpless. This is what will happen when you do so ones in a while: they’ll see you as really human, as one of them, and they’ll always come flocking around you.
- Sow respect; reap respect:With millennials and Gen Z, you earn respect; they don’t owe you it. And the only one way to reap a harvest of respect with them is to sow it. Respect them a lot, and they’d respect you a lot, too. “How?” you may be asking. Very little things signal respect: offer them a sit as soon as they step into your office or house, speak gently and kindly with them, keep your promises to them, temper justice with mercy, while correcting them have regard for their esteem, greet them – even if they didn’t greet you first, etc. Simple enough: you reap the respect you sow.
- Key into the digital:Be the leader who can be followed on twitter, befriended on Facebook, connected with on LinkedIn, chatted up on WhatsApp, and read up on a blog. Send materials to their mailboxes, ask them to download this or that app. In all, key into the digital revolution and ride with the flow along with them. And you’d be glad you did, since you’d always be on the same page with them.