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Generational Leadership

Understanding the Different Generations

Understanding the Different Generations

There is no single element that will result in effective Christian leadership, but when a number of elements come together, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the result can be effective leadership.

One of the pieces of the puzzle for a leader is ‘Understanding Others’. Learning about what drives and motivates people, as well as their needs and concerns, is a powerful aid to becoming a better leader. Effective leaders are good at relating with people and they learn how to empathise with them and adjust their approach accordingly.

Understanding generational differences

In any form of ministry, different generational groups working closely together can produce interesting outcomes. These generational groups are products of their chronological age and the time in which they grew up and have rather different attitudes, values, beliefs and motivations from one another. These differences can easily lead to misunderstanding, miscommunication and even outright conflict. Our outlook, or the way in which we see the world, has significant implications for how we treat, minister with, and value other people. The way we develop, think, and make decisions is complex and quite unique from one person to the next. Given our differences, however, there are patterns or styles of thinking and behaviour that are can be identified and understood.

There are two main ways of looking at the “cycles” of time or phases in life; we have two main options from which to choose. The first of these, and often the most popular, is to look at generational groups according to the year of birth. It is now commonplace to talk of “Traditionals”, often called “The Greatest Generation” (born 1924 to 1943), “Baby Boomers” (born 1944 to 1963), “Generation X” (born 1964 to 1983), and finally “Generation Y” (born 1984 to 2000). We encounter all four of these generational groups each day and each can be characterised as one kind of group, based on the eras in which they grew up or the influences in their formative years (social, economic, political, technological influences).

The second option in considering life phases is to look at the ageing process as a cycle through which every individual must travel. Pythagoras was among the first of western thinkers to interpret life as a cycle of four phases. He suggested that these phases were roughly 20 years long and further stated that each could be usefully associated with a season: the Spring of youth, the Summer of early adulthood, the Autumn of midlife, and the Winter of older age. Many others have maintained this analogy and extended the use of the theme. Popular writer, Gail Sheehy, published the best-seller book, ‘Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life’, which covered the principal challenges and concerns facing individuals passing from one developmental adult life stage to the next. Sheehy subsequently wrote New Passages and several other “passages” books.

To gain more insights into this aspect of ‘Understanding Others’ a booklet by Jon Warner and Anne Sandberg will be helpful. It defines the groups by current literature, and begins to ask the tough questions that progressive individuals and organizations are interested in exploring in order to better lead the different generations effectively.

© 2012. Dr. Jon Warner. Adapted and used with permission.

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Colin Noyes

Colin Noyes is a Brisbane (Australia) based coach and consultant with extensive experience in the areas of organisational health and growth, change management, leadership development, recruiting/staff development and coaching. Read more

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