Why Can’t We All Get Along?

Millenials, Boomers, and Leadership

If you are reading this, you are likely a) a Millennial or b) working with Millennials and wondering how this generation became such a mystery to you.

As a Gen Xer who lives on the edge of the Millennial generation (those born between 1980 and 2004), I am drawn to some of the beauty of the Millennials, while also feeling a need to dig deeper and understand more fully what makes them think and act the way that they do.

Recently, I completed my dissertation on what Millennials have to say about leadership and teams…and it appears a significant shift is taking place. Many of the participants in the study revealed that they wanted leaders who come alongside them. They are not interested in leaders who demand their own way or think they are above other team members. They believe everyone on the team is an equal. Only two of the participants spoke highly of the concept of hierarchy. Each of them followed it up with the fact that leaders need to balance the authority they have with walking beside their followers.

Leadership as a fluid concept

In their minds, leadership has become synonymous with facilitator. The leader is the one who sets the direction and holds people accountable, but they were clear that the leader does not possess any more value than the rest of the individuals on the team.

Leadership can also be a fluid concept. The leader for one task may not be the leader for another. It can float around the team and really depends on who has the strengths, gifts and passions to best fit the task at hand.

A generational disconnect

Recently, the president of Trinity International University spoke at an event for our student leaders. Our staff had asked our student leaders to dress business casual for the event rather than having them come in their yoga pants and disheveled hair. Our spokesperson to get the word out was a senior. After one day of asking her peers to dress up for the event, she came back and said, “They are all upset that they have to dress up! I keep hearing that the president said he wanted to come alongside of us, so why should we dress up for him?” It is not always obvious to a Millennial that a certain amount of respect needs to be shown for a person in a position of leadership. Millennials want to be seen as equals. Boomers cannot comprehend the disconnect.

In sharing my findings, I keep finding that Boomers want me to stop talking and listen to them vent. They are frustrated and annoyed at what Millennials “require” and they want to know how to fix the huge gap that has developed between the generations. In contrast, the Millennials simply shake their heads in agreement with the findings and cannot seem to figure out why everyone is making such a fuss about who they are.

How can you serve as a catalyst for greater cross-generational understanding and conversation in your ministry area?

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