Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success
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Quick, hide! It's another generation...

‘Every generation, blames the one before it and all of their frustrations, come beating on your door.’

So said social commentators of the 1980s, Mike and The Mechanics. Although they also said ‘Take the children and yourself and hide out in the cellar’... so maybe you should take their preachings with a pinch of salt. Especially with their generation line, because today the current generation seems to be blaming the one after it and they haven’t even got started yet!

I recently published a white paper (you should read it here - I think you’d like it) in which I studied some of the great organisation cultures around the world. I’ve received lots of feedback (thank you!), some of which included the following:

  • ‘It’s easier for these companies as they’re staffed by millennials’
  • ‘I don’t want to be negative, but there’s no way that would work in my organisation’
  • ‘This good is stuff in theory, but the new generation doesn’t understand how we do things here’.

Ugh. Excuses, excuses from older generations, who should know better.

Past is prologue

Dad came to visit us recently and it was great having him here. The evenings inevitably drifted towards games, whisky and stories. I love talking about the good old days (so does Dad, which is lucky) as I can don my rose-tinted glasses and think back to a world that was.

That WAS… that’s the key word in the sentence, because that world and the generation it existed in, have ceased to exist. Its metabolic processes are history and it’s joined the choir invisible. It’s pointless pining for it because it’s never coming back. And in its place is a generation in which the older me is definitely more uncomfortable.

This generation has a different motivation, uses a different language, knows the answer before I’ve finished the question, interacts in a different way, dreams big and wants to know what you stand for. And yes, it watches videos of other people playing games and records pretty much every second of every experience for posterity.

But that’s what it does and whether you like it or not, you’re part of that generation (admittedly an older part) and have a choice to make. Do you hold it back or do you continually evolve who you are in order to contribute to its success?

If it’s the latter, it’ll mean unlearning certain phrases and the behaviours that come with them:

‘It never used to happen in my day.’

Of course it didn’t. In my day our parents sent us out into the world without caring about where we were, showering us with love and affection, spending hours getting to know us intimately or investing in our future. The assumption that that is somehow more preferable to what today’s generation have is absolutely ridiculous.

They have different interests, just like we do. Different personalities, just like we do, and different challenges, just like we do. That they are younger than us doesn’t mean their opinions or feelings matter less. If anything, they matter more as they stand to inherit all that we leave behind - good and bad.

‘Kids these days expect the world.’

Guess what? Other generations did too. 

Maybe if their workmates opened up a little more, showed more empathy and listened more they’d realise that their expectations are justified. They have ideas that are unsullied by time on how to breakdown the needless bureaucracy that’s been amassed over the years. Maybe the language would change? Maybe things would get done quicker by collaborating in different ways? Maybe if we invested time in building teams relationships would improve? And maybe if we created a vision that connected the day-to-day with the future, everyone would feel more connected?

Instead lip service is paid to creating more diverse, smarter and more purposeful ways of working. Back-to-back meetings still prevail and poor performance and behaviour continue to go unpunished.

‘I don’t want to be negative but…’

Well don’t be then. Find something good to say so that every generation (not just the latest one) can feel optimistic that they’re working with people who give a damn about each others’ wellbeing and collaborative success.

Find ways to better frame issues that focus the mindset on solutions, not problems. Stop protecting that knowledge that you think is yours to own and share it instead. Coach, mentor and distribute the wisdom that you have and ask for the same in return, because no generation has ever had all of the answers.

‘What you don’t understand is…’

Look, there’s lots I don’t understand, but I’m also self-aware enough to know that I don’t understand them. I’m not clinging on to a reality that hasn’t existed for years or hoping that everything will go back to the way it was.

Stop creating roadblocks in your own head and thinking that everything that has gone before is fixed and unable to change. Stop dealing in right/wrong absolutes, and avoiding conversations where you may find out there’s a better way. The future will be better than the past whether you contribute to it or not.

But I get it, I really do. I’m 50 in 2019 and it gets harder every year to unlearn some of the habits and relinquish some of the ideas that are holding me back in the generation that I’m living in. It gets harder to find the time to relentlessly develop my emotional intelligence and technical skills to stay relevant. And it gets harder to show the courage required to stand up to out of date, old fashioned people who refuse to change. But if I don’t do this, I’ll become just another member of an ex-generation working hard to hold back the next one.

Every generation has a part to play in the future of our businesses and our world and only by sharing the knowledge and good behaviours of each can we succeed in achieving the vision that we set for ourselves.


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