Leadership Across Generations

In looking at leadership paradigms that are successful with particular generations, I find that Builders, Boomers, Gen. X’ers and Millennials greatly differ.  The methods and strategies used for one generation will not ultimately work for another.  Generational specifics do have an impact on how leaders choose to lead and followers choose to follow.

Builders prefer a military chain-of-command approach or a representative democracy.  In the military chain-of-command, there are various positions along the leadership ladder each holding a greater degree of responsibility and investment.  Generals at the top make the decisions, privates at the bottom fulfill the orders.  However, Builders also prefer representative democracy where the masses elect representatives to represent them in leadership structures, like a committee or board.  Much like the US Congress or a state legislature, leadership is given to those whom the people elected.

Boomers have come from primarily from a corporate business mindset.  They are comfortable with the terms CEO and Executive Director.  They value positional leadership but also want leaders to succeed and be highly efficient with results.  Boomers are driven by goals and expectations. In their generation those who succeed will be given leadership rights.

Generation X tends to swing the pendulum from the Boomers and Builders.  They prefer a relational leadership style.  They like to personally know their leader, identifying with them.  If the Gen. X. follower feels loved and appreciated, they will pretty much do whatever the leader instructs them to do.  They want to feel a connection with their leader and the mission of the organization.

Millennials are still developing as young leaders in the marketplace, but early signs show them to be highly motivated by the cause of the leader or organization.  Millennials want to know what is the organization and leadership are intending to do.  If they believe in the cause, they will follow loyally.  If they do not believe in the cause, they will seek other avenues in which to invest their lives.  They want leaders to champion the passions of their hearts and lives.

As one can see leader various generations is not simple.  It is a complex working of many factors.  I believe looking at the generational makeup of your intended followers will impact what leadership style you choose to employ.

For a brief in-class webinar on this topic, click here.
I will be leading a workshop on this topic at the 2010 Pastors and Church Leaders Conference, Sept. 23-24 at Campbellsville Univ.

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4 thoughts on “Leadership Across Generations

  1. I have greatly enjoyed reading your last few posts regarding churches and leadership. They have certainly been food for thought.

    Today’s post had a couple of statements that made me think:
    “They methods and strategies used for one generation will not ultimately work for another.” and
    ” I believe looking at the generational makeup of your intended followers will impact what leadership style you choose to employ.”

    Do you mean that a church should primarily focus on only one segment of society (“intended followers”)? How do leaders of a church address the variety of generations that make up the body of Christ? Or do you choose the leadership style according to the one group you want to encourage as followers and let the other groups “tag along if they choose?”

    • Jan, Great question.

      I do not mean to suggest that a church, or a specific leader, should chose a leadership model based solely on the largest generational segment of their followers. However, I do believe skillful leaders must understand the leadership dynamics in their organization which is undoubtedly influenced by the ages of their followers.

      If you lead more Gen. X’ers than Boomers, you might need to shift to a relational model. However if your larger segment is Builders, you will need to know how to function in a military chain of command or representative leadership models.

      I really want leaders to consider the tendencies of the given generation. It makes all the difference in how you lead them and may help you avoid certain battles in the process.

  2. Thanks, Shane. You’re right. I agree with you about making sure you’re addressing the needs of the greatest segment of your population. I guess I wondered if there should be a balance so as not to alienate other groups that may be present. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to lead as Jesus did – he addressed every need of each soul at once.

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