What does leadership mean in the workplace today?

What does leadership mean in the workplace today?

As a generational shift takes place in the workforce, leaders and managers alike need to understand that the concept of leadership is shifting along with it.  When Traditionalists (1925-1945) were growing up, World War II was a reality. They understood that you need to have someone in charge and when they give orders, you follow them without asking questions. This is the context within which they built many of the organizations that exist today.  With this in mind, it makes sense that hierarchical leadership with top down authority is how things were established.

Next came the Baby Boomers (1946-1964). They entered the workforce in record numbers and this meant that you had to pay your dues in order to be considered worthy to lead. They developed strong loyalties and when they sat down in a meeting, they already knew how each person was going to vote on the topic at hand. Leadership became about getting everyone on board. They knew the boss had the final say and would support their leader in public, saving their real feelings to only be discussed at home. Getting consensus was how they led teams and organizations forward.

Gen X (1965-1980) is known as the latchkey generation. They learned to be highly flexible and independent. A competent leader was someone who was a good problem-solver and was adept at self-management. Leadership was now an art and if you did not have the necessary skills, you were not going to be taken very seriously.

 When Millennials (19801-1995) arrived on the scene, things really started to change. They are the first generation to call their parents their friends which has decreased the power distance that used to be evident in the workplace from leader to employee. For Millennials, it is important to be seen as an equal player. The role of the leader and the responsibilities that come with it can easily be passed on to someone else or be shared. They are adamant that everyone at the table should be treated with the same respect.

 Now, we have Gen Z (1996-2012) arriving in the workforce. For this generation, leadership is about transparency.  They want to look a leader in the eye and know that he or she is trustworthy. They value honesty and want leaders to be direct about what they know and don’t know. They are happy to help come up with a solution if necessary. Saying, “because I said so” will not work well with a generation who wants to know that they can trust the people around them.

Now, Gen Z is arriving. Leadership is about transparency.  They want to look you in the eye & know that they are trustworthy. They want leaders to be direct about what they know & don’t know.

Katherine Jeffery, PhD. Generational speaker, culture builder, and coach.
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