In my most recent MBA class on leadership, we covered generational differences. We learned that there are certain workplace-related traits that can be ascribed to Baby Boomers, for example, that is not a part of the Gen-X or Gen-Y experience. As a leader, one may therefore relate differently to employees of one generation as opposed to how they relate to members of other generations.

For example, regarding relationship to authority (taken from the Lake Forest leadership presentation on generational relations):

  • Those of the “Veteran” generation (born 1935-45) will generally respect authority and hierarchy. They generally want to be told what to do, and will deliver on explicit direction.
  • Those of the “Boomer” generation (born 1946-59) will generally challenge authority. This is the Vietnam/disenchantment generation, and therefore want a more democratic organization.
  • Those of the “Gen-X” generation (born 1960-79) are generally unimpressed by authority. This is the latchkey generation that had to figure things out on their own, and they are the first generation to want to know what people in authority can do for them.
  • Those of the “Gen-Y” generation, or Millennials (born 1980-2001) are capable of respect for authority, but only such authority as can demonstrate competence in their eyes. This is the generation of immediate gratification, and wants those in authority to show them what they can do for them right now!
Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's "Th...

Jon Stewart

With this background, I’d like to introduce a fascinating video clip featuring Jon Stewart on a youth vote panel in 2000. You’ll notice that the clip seems dated, and Stewart’s persona is a little more raw and unguarded from what we see in current times. Watch the clip, and then join me back for a discussion on some of the points…

This clip is a great example of a Gen-Xer (Stewart) talking to a Millennial (the woman to his immediate right). Stewart displays a condescending attitude to that entire generation which may or may not be deserved, but in terms of how one the generational attitudes that both people express, it fits right in with the model on how these generations regard one another.

Here are a couple of points:

1) The point about Gen-Y’s brand agnosticism is perfectly valid. People born after 1980 do wield a disproportionate amount of consumer power simply because they are the generation most open to dumping their current brand in favor of another. They feel the same way about the places they work, and will change companies on a whim.

2) The presentation from which I got this information has a slide called “Connecting with Y-ers,” which suggests things like “be encouraging,” “coach instead of tell,” “give them attention,” “give them recognition,” “use irony and humor,” etc. I’m going to diverge from the presentation at this point and say that this is bullshit. I’m more in line with Stewart’s line of thinking: just show competence. Make good stuff. He enjoys a particularly young demographic without necessarily trying to “speak the Gen-Y language.” Although, to be fair, Stewart is a fan of the more-than-occasional dick joke, and that’s going to have a slightly younger draw.

Let me know what you think. And please share the discussion using the links below. Although, if you’re from Gen-Y, I’m apparently going to have to say pretty, pretty please…

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