The room was packed with association leaders, all of them struggling to get their boards to work together. “Our board is made up of Gen Xers,” one woman said. “We get a lot done, but sometimes we lack vision.” From another table a man called out, “No problem. I’ve got some Boomers I’ll trade you for a couple of Xers!”
The crowd laughed, but we all got the point. It takes both pragmatic, get-er-done Xers and principle-driven Boomers to move a group to new levels of excellence. And that’s not an easy mix!
Add Millennials and Silents, and you have four generations at the table tasked with making decisions everyone can embrace. The problem?
Each generation makes decisions in its own way, asking completely different qualifying questions about projects, process and initiatives.
Silents look for what’s STANDARD
Silents grew up when institutions were strong and getting stronger. Government, religion, businesses, schools and associations were the backbone of society. Fitting in and pulling your weight (being a “regular Joe”) was important. The consensus-minded Silent in your group is likely to have faith in central authority and institutional processes. When there’s a proposal on the table, Silents wonder if it’s fair, and if it is standard.
Baby Boomers look for what’s RIGHT
Boomers in your group may well see decisions in terms of right and wrong. They grew up during the Consciousness Revolution. Leaders were visionaries like Dr. King and John Kennedy. To this day, the Boomers you work with have an idealism gene in their DNA. They tend to seek moral high ground and make a stand there. Put a proposal up for a vote, and consciously or unconsciously Boomers ask “Is this the right thing to do? Is this the right way to do it?”
Generation X recognizes MULTIPLE options
And how does the Xer you work with approach group decisions? In a word, cautiously. As Xers came of age, they saw institutions and organizations falter and fail. As they witnessed Watergate, the Enron and WorldCom debacles and the Challenger explosion, Gen Xers concluded “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.” They put their faith, not in groups, but in individuals. Offer a group initiative, and Gen Xers tend to view it skeptically, asking the hard questions, and welcoming or provoking conflict rather than easy consensus. Xers assume there are multiple and highly individual ways of achieving an end. Hoping for success, but half expecting failure, they won’t trust a decision until they’ve vetted all the options.
Millennials look for what’s PRACTICAL
Millennials know about one thing in spades—change. They grew up when institutions were (and are) being completely reshaped and reborn. They’ve seen email and text reshape communication. They’ve seen social media reshape business relationships and friendship groups. They’ve seen storefront businesses become online and global. Coming of age with constant and accelerating change makes Millennials look first for what works now. Float an idea to the group and the Millennials ask,” Is this practical? Will it work?”
Remember, no generation is trying to sabotage group process. We simply come at it with completely different histories and expectations. When things stall, see if the differences above are in play, and try to address the fears and assumptions of the generations involved. Recognizing thee differences and accepting them as part of your group process can help you build a better board or working group.
President of Generational Edge, Amy Lynch has written and spoken about the generations for 15 years. She has spoken to 100s of groups from MTV and Comcast to Boeing, J&J and the staff of the U.S. Senate. Amy has been quoted in national publications, including The Washington Post, USA Today, Boston Globe, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune and NBC Evening News, among others.