Business is becoming more and more multigenerational, especially as Boomers plan to work longer, out of necessity for some but also as a result of longer, healthier life spans. None of this is news to anyone, much less to futurists.
For all the media hype pitting the generations against each other, the facts demonstrate that Boomers working longer are not taking jobs from the younger generation. More and more members of all generations—X, Y, early Boomers, and late—are becoming more vocal about putting aside the generational stereotypes and looking at the common ground.
The question then becomes not whether these generations will work well together but how, and what changes we are likely to see in the future of business as a result of the changing, more age-diverse face of tomorrow’s workforce, from professionals to executives to the growing number of entrepreneurs.
A recent panel called “Don’t Generalize My Generation,” sponsored by Deutsch NY, raised many interesting answers to this question on topics ranging from work styles to telecommuting. Here, I’d like to focus on one area that I think has important implications for all aspects of how—and why—we do business: leadership.
The traditional business model is hierarchical, and at its extreme, this has meant that those lower in the hierarchy simply “follow orders” based on what the leadership passes down. We all know that this has been changing for decades. The hierarchy is still the most common structure, but more and more businesses recognize the need to cultivate a shared vision, a sense of the big picture and where every person within the organization fits in that picture.
But now, we are at a remarkable transition point, where many among the younger generations expect leadership to be essentially crowd-sourced, a concept that at first blush might seem a foreign concept to their older colleagues. But is it?
The concept that all generations share is that a shared vision is important. As Boomers age, the need to focus on what really matters most to them becomes increasingly important. Ultimately, for all generations, true leadership is the vision itself, a purpose that everyone can feel genuinely invested in—not only those working toward that vision as a part of the business but also those the businesses serve.
Businesses led by a strong shared vision do not rely on retaining certain people as leaders. They can weather changes that result from retirement, job-sharing arrangements, people transitioning from full time to part time, and similar changes in the fluidity of how people manage their careers and their own transitions—be they related to aging, starting a family, or simply wanting to pursue multiple intersecting paths to self-actualization and professional fulfillment.
This fluidity is only going to increase in the future, and it has much to do with the changing priorities of the older generation as it does with the new expectations and preferences of the younger—and every age and stage in between.
The future of leadership is not only multigenerational, it is collaborative and, above all, visionary. Those who recognize and nourish this trend, as well as the visionary purpose within all of us, will not only survive but thrive, with their roots in generational common ground.
Featured image by Flickr user skutterdan1701.