Three Essentials to Leading Someone from a Different Generation

By Tim Elmore

Three Essentials to Leading Someone from a Different Generation 

I continue to hear stories of Boomer or Gen X managers who become frustrated at the audacity of Generation Z or Millennial team members. One manager said a young job candidate told him in her interview: “I’m going to have your job in eighteen months.” Similarly, young professionals tell me about their consternation with older managers who they call “dinosaurs.” One 23-year-old resigned when his boss told him, “I own you.” 

One of the top five questions I’m asked when I speak on leading multi-generational teams is this: How do you lead a person who is much older or much younger than you? 

You’re going to find that over the course of your career, you’ll be interfacing with people in different age groups all the time. The older you get, the more often you’ll feel a gap between your life station and those young graduates you may be hiring. Over the past few years, our department managers have hired people who are young, and we learned some valuable lessons along the way. Some of them were wrong hires. They weren’t bad people, just not a fit for our organization. Others were a good fit, but leaders had to learn how to effectively communicate with them. Conversely, I often hear Millennial managers share how awkward it can feel to lead someone twenty or thirty years older. Communication can be clunky, full of nuances, hidden messages, and ego. Based on our life station, we bring different norms and assumptions with us to the workplace. Most respondents in a U.S. Market Watch survey said they’re unlikely to get along with a team member from another generation. 

So, what do we need to connect with someone who’s from a very different generation?


Gavin bluntly corrected one of our senior leaders in front of the entire team on a Zoom call. Regardless of the accuracy of Gavin’s comment, it divided folks because it was made in an arrogant way. Everyone noticed it but him. The irony is, he expected humility from others—but seemed unable to show it. 

I met with Gavin and attempted to explain the disconnect. The problem wasn’t his information; it was his delivery. When people approach a difficult topic or a different generation with humility, it communicates an openness to input, a recognition that they’re human and flawed. This means I offer ideas, then listen to gain helpful insight myself. 

Listening screams humility! I try to speak as if I believe I’m right, but listen as if I believe I’m wrong. Our team practices this too. Gavin never got this and is no longer with our team. 

2. Respect. 

Charlotte had a chip on her shoulder. She was smart and talented enough, but began most of her interactions with distrust instead of belief. This 24-year-old even told me when she meets people, she assigns them a grade. They start with an “F” and must earn an “A.” She questions everything, which is fine if it’s done in a respectful way. 

I recognize the majority of Gen Z does not trust traditional institutions, but if they hope to make improvements on those institutions, respect can accelerate their progress. Once again, Charlotte demanded respect but didn’t offer it to others. 

We live in a very uncivil, disrespectful era, yet everyone wants to feel respected. Respect communicates you esteem the other person. Even if you feel you have a better idea, it’s good to recall that current ideas were implemented as solutions to problems at one point. 


If we enter conversations curious to learn and to see new perspectives, it enables connection between two points of view. When teammates from two generations embody curiosity, they can naturally smooth over rough spots and differences in style. Curiosity trumps conflict and builds a bridge where there might have been a wall. It communicates openness to new ideas and a hunger to grow and improve. 

Rachel is 46 and Sam is 22. At first, they butted heads during ideation meetings, but once the need to improve on methods was obvious, both switched gears and became more curious. Those teammates sharpen each other today, and now not only overlook their differences but welcome them as an impetus for growth. 

When we embody these qualities, we can say almost anything and connect with almost anyone. 

We’ve created a free assessment to enable you to evaluate your generational fluency. It’s called the GQ. It will reveal how well you understand the different generations on your team. You can find it here, along with my new book:


Three Essentials to Leading Someone from a Different Generation