How One Baby Boomer CEO Leads With Millennials: 4 Tips to Lead Successful Cross-Generational Teams

How One Baby Boomer CEO Leads With Millennials: 4 Tips to Lead Successful Cross-Generational Teams

Written by Charlotte DiBartolomeo, M.A. in Conflict Transformation and Leadership, CEO at Red Kite Project.

Intergenerational teams are nothing new. What has shifted, thanks to our global economy, is the reality that there are fewer jobs than workers. Baby boomers, Generation X, and now the Millenials are increasingly in competition for the same position. How do we team with people with whom we lack understanding? If we’re going to build a sustainable economic recovery, we have to learn to collaborate.

The Baby Boomer’s Perspective: Building a Legacy

 The Twenty Something Generation, better known as the Millenials have entered the workplace like a swarm of bees on a hot September day. Or perhaps that’s how they view us. After all, we’re the old ones. And like a September bee, we sense that summer is about to come to a close. Some of us feel we’ve not pollinated all the flowers or tasted the nectar of success as we’d planned. The Millenials are our reminder of the impending end of a season. It may not be happening today, may not be happening tomorrow, but it’s coming.

I’ve got no problem with the change of seasons. In fact I love it. However, I don’t want to be pushed out to the winter cold before my time. I want to savor what I’ve learned along the way, and I want to share my knowledge and experience with the generations that come after me. It’s called legacy building and if it’s done well, what the next generations inherits will be sustainable.

Here’s the rub. Our once hierarchical culture has become decidedly egalitarian. I particularly see it in the Millenials. Senior status doesn’t hold the same power it did for previous generations. We may be older, we may be wiser, but in a culture that prizes new and innovative over experienced and wise, we’re two steps away from the bin. This isn’t just a problem for us; it’s a problem for the next generations too.  Passing the torch is not merely a symbolic phrase that takes a moment to accomplish. Succession planning is a strategic and delicate operation of instruction, mentorship and collaboration. Without it, the next generation will have to work harder to accomplish their goals and won’t benefit from the mistakes we’ve made.

I worry about the Millenials. Their brains have been cluttered with flash, scam and froth. They’re burdened by a “what’s next” techno implanted instinct that hasn’t infected our generation as insidiously as theirs. In search of the newest gadget, latest innovation, best something or other…I’m exhausted just watching them. Sometimes working with Millenials feels like I’m chaperoning an Easter Egg Hunt.

How do we get them to slow down long enough to pay attention to what we have to offer? By listening. By affirming their ideas, and helping them critically think through those ideas to craft them into a strategy –.

1. Check Your Body Language

“But I am listening,” you say. “And still the Millenials I work with discount my knowledge and expertise.

Are you really listening? Or are you judging? Your body language tells the truth, even if you won’t. Is it open or closed? Arms crossed? Legs crossed? Or worse, are you making a steeple with your hands when they speak? All of this says, “I don’t like what you’re saying and I still want the power.” Doesn’t build trusting relationships. So check it and change it.

2. Ask Questions 

Find out what your Millenials are passionate about. When you understand what interests them, you will have the key to motivating them. This requires asking open-ended questions, which allow them to share their long-term professional goals. Ask questions such as, “What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?” or “If you could change three things about the world or the company, what would they be and why?”

3. Harness their Expertise

When we feel valued we are more likely to share our gifts. The same goes for the Millenials. Despite their inexperience in the professional world, they’ve got a leg up on us in several areas. IT and social media are their preferred mode of communication. We can certainly teach them the value of putting the cell phone down while in a team meeting, but they may have a more complete picture of how social media could be utilized to capture your market.

Millenials may be better team players than the generations that have come before them. Perhaps it’s because we taught them how to share; or perhaps they’ve learned to collaborate by necessity in a world where competition for a tinier piece of pie translates to many more going hungry. In either case, they understand that splitting up the work means the job will get done that much quicker. Acknowledging their unique perspective and their virtual experience will give them more reason to trust you and listen to your wisdom.

4. Check Your Ego

The singular beauty of getting older is the knowledge that we’ve got nothing left to prove. But we do have something to leave behind. Someday, whether they realize it or not, the Millenials are going to be in our position. And what we can offer them now is our grace and integrity as models of good behavior for when it’s their turn to share the stage and coach the generation after them.


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