Can You Lead Effectively? an Analysis of the Leadership Styles of Four Generations of American Employees

Article excerpt

Abstract

The main purpose of this research is to determine the preferred leadership style(s) of the different generations of workers in the U.S. A sample population of 328 respondents in all four generations responded to 8 questions posed in a Survey conducted online using working adults taking a course in a graduate school. Responses indicate that preferred leadership styles differ significantly among the four generations. It is further noted that the greater the difference is in age groups the more significant the difference in leadership behavioral preferences. This is significant for managers in order for them to adapt their leadership styles for the specific generation of employee to be managed to gain the highest level of motivation and job performance.

Key Words: Leadership, Employee Generation, Traditionalists, Boomers, G eneration" x", generation" y".

Introduction

In today's workforce, there are now four distinct generations of employees that must partner and work together. The current workforce includes Veterans, referred to as Matures or traditionalists (age 66+), Baby Boomers (age 47-65), Generation X (age 32-46), and Generation Y, also referred to as Millenials (age 18-31). It's important to note that these age groups can vary slightly according to the researcher involved. However, these are the age groups that we are focusing on for this particular study. It is critical that organizations should understand the management preference styles for each of these generations so that it may harness the true potential of its workforce and maintain a competitive edge. The ability to provide good leadership training is key to a healthy organization. But a more productive and forward -thinking company must recognize that being able to understand leadership preferences by generation and then training to match the style as appropriate will provide these organizations with a true competitive advantage. It is important to recognize that generations of employees are molded by the times in which they came of age (Bennis & Thomas, 2002). Conger (1997) stated that each generational time period has a "distinct wind or character" (Hesselbein, Goldsmith, & Beckhard (Eds), 1997). Matures, or Veterans, have a respect for authority and a sense of duty and honor (Hammill, 2005; and Brown, 2003). Baby Boomers are typically described as "workaholics" who derive fulfillment from their jobs (Hammill, 2005; Brown, 2003). Generation X is the first workforce generation to have a comfort level with technology are self- reliant, and skeptical of other generational values (Hammill, 2005; Brown, 2003). Generation Y, or Millenials, are entrepreneurial, able to easily multitask, and prefer immediate feedback and response (Hammill, 2005; Brown, 2003).

Ultimately, different generations in the workforce may have the same basic values; however, they do express these differently from each other. According to Deal (2007), much of the intergenerational struggles seen in the workplace have to do with a struggle for power based on these values Deal ( 2007). Typically, one generation will have more of the power, and the other will struggle against it using values as a basis. Therefore, it is vital for productive organizations to recognize this and the need to better understand how to effectively utilize leadership styles to effectively engage the different generations in the workforce (Pitt-Catsouphes &Matz-Costa, 2009). "In any human group, the leader has maximum power to sway everyone's emotions" (Goleman, Boyatzis, & McGee, 2004).

The differences among these generational groups are examined with regard to leadership style preferences. Providing a clearer understanding of these leadership preferences, will help to delineate the types of styles to be utilized with the appropriate generation in the workplace. Such targeted leadership style usage will help to develop more effective communication, provide a more productive workflow, and facilitate intergenerational trust building in the workplace. …