Leveraging Multigenerational Leadership
This is the second in a series of posts inspired by “Doing Good in the 21st Century,” a joint project with Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy to explore what the sector will need to succeed in the new reality.
This post is co-authored by Scott Cotenoff and Brenda de Santiago-Stewart.
I’m not trying to cause a big s-s-sensation (Talkin’ ‘bout my generation)
I’m just talkin’ ‘bout my g-g-generation (Talkin’ ‘bout my generation)
Gen X … Gen Y… Millennials…each successive generation of young people brings a fresh perspective on everything from fashion to music to communication. This desire to shape the world to address their issues and concerns, and put their own stamp on society, is reflected in our communities. Similarly, through volunteerism, philanthropy, and career choices, younger voices are rising in the nonprofit sector.
As a result of this generational shift, organizations are presented with an enormous opportunity and a significant challenge. How can we best integrate people across generations into every aspect of our work? Notice that we said “integrate.” This is not about figuring out a response to the so-called “Greying of America,” and replacing Baby Boomers with the next age cohort. Rather, it’s about trying to understand how to create organizations that leverage the strength inherent in a diverse workforce. It’s about helping organizations learn how to adapt to an ever-changing environment in order to successfully fulfill their missions.
Technology and social media have softened the boundaries between those in positions of authority and the rest of us. Students email teachers directly with questions about an exam or assignment. More than 41 million people throughout the world hear directly from President Obama on Twitter, and he hears directly from another 650,000 people who he follows. Community actions are organized online by community residents concerned about issues large and small.
As a result, traditional thinking about the definition and role of leadership has shifted from an emphasis on hierarchy to an increased focus on structures that reflect a more communal or web-like approach. Many of us no longer define leadership as any one specific individual. We define it as a set of behaviors that generate decisions and actions that create successful organizations. Leadership is about helping more experienced workers (who may be holding positions of traditionally-defined authority) learn from those newer to the workforce, as much as it’s about creating learning opportunities for younger workers. It’s about creating partnerships within organizations across generations, rather than setting up traditional mentorship relationships.
Many younger colleagues share an expectation that everyone can play a leadership role at different times, around different issues. And so, the opportunity to leverage this perspective exists within organizations. However, so does the challenge of determining how to do this most effectively. How can we harness this energy to better position organizations to remain effective in a changing environment? How can we create more space at the table, rather than forcing younger workers to wait their turn by extending the line of potential “leaders-in-waiting?” How do we support more experienced leaders to embrace new and different perspectives brought into the sector by what is more than merely a demographic shift?
We have gathered some thoughts from an emerging core of leaders in philanthropy, and we’d love to hear from you, too. Are you an ED with decades’ worth of experience grappling with the strengths and challenges of an increasingly younger work force? Or a Millennial struggling or successfully having your voice heard at the table? Sharing your experience in an open dialogue is but one way to build a body of knowledge and best practices that you can use to push your organization to the next level, so let us know what you think in a comment below.