Generational leadership transition

Jun 15, 2020

Baby boomers and millennials may use different leadership styles and cope differently in business and in life, but the interaction of both can deliver some key benefits.

According to the United States Census Bureau, by 2030, all baby boomers will be 65 years of age or older. With an estimated 73 million, this generation has been dubbed the “gray tsunami,” and most should be retiring over the next five to 10 years. As a proud boomer, I hope to eventually join my peers in retirement.

At the same time, more than one-in-three American labor force participants (35 percent) are millennials, making them the largest generation in the U.S. labor force according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. They are a much maligned group, yet we cannot ignore the tidal wave that they represent in the work force.

As leadership teams transition and as my retirement looms over the horizon, I often reflect on the finish line and what that will look like for me. Lately, too, I have been checking off ambitious and adventuresome “must do’s” on my bucket list which begs the question: Am I watching my youth slip away into old age or am I ready for a big change in the current course I am on? How about you?

Most of my peers have been work-centric, often deferring important and meaningful personal events and activities to continue climbing that seemingly endless ladder of success. It seems that, as leaders, we are always “on,” sending and replying to work issues no matter what time of day or night. While we boomers might have bulldozed our way to the top, millennials choose how they want to carve out their path, and it is often based on achieving workplace balance.

Millennials try to establish personal and professional lives concurrently. They bring fresh energy to the workplace that includes a greater range of technology know-how, a focus on achieving career balance, and greater inclusivity and teamwork. They also seek more frequent feedback and conversations with the leadership team.

Let’s face it – two generations may involve different leadership styles, motivational opportunities and tech savvy, but the interaction of both can deliver some key benefits. In his article entitled “Why Baby Boomers and Millennials Make Great Teams,” Nathaniel Koloc explains the different energy that both generations bring to the workplace. “Millennial energy is about potential,” says Koloc. They are digital natives, intensely focused across a range of tasks, seek mentors at work, and want the world to become a better place for themselves and their families. On the other hand, the core of boomer energy, according to Koloc, is experience. They bring decades of knowledge about building and maintaining client relationships, evaluating and delivering complex projects, and hiring and retaining good talent, among other key business tasks.

Will we cope differently in business and in life? No doubt about it. Each generation differs in how it copes with the competition, changes in the marketplace, leadership styles, client relationships, teambuilding, and growing and diversifying their business prospects and projects. However, understanding and embracing these generational differences offers some great learning experiences for us all. Learning how to achieve greater balance in our lives can enable us to collaborate more powerfully. In the past, much of what we accomplished professionally was based on individual effort. Today, there are interdisciplinary activities in the workforce that involve diverse teams and teamwork, and millennials embrace both.

For those leaders who are aware of their agreed-upon exit strategy, now is the time to reflect and neither panic nor regret that we are “aging out.” We must become comfortable with transitioning our roles and responsibilities while another generation assumes them. That is part of the challenge and growth in the long run. And, part of the excitement about the future of our firms and our industry.

In an article entitled “A Radical New Way to Work with your Millennial Employees,” author Kasey Hickey comments that millennials “are extraordinary multi-taskers, community-oriented, entrepreneurial, highly educated, and connected with their families. And they are optimistic, too, despite the troubling times they have witnessed.” He goes on to add that, “A commitment to coaching is one of the best ways you can lead a millennial-strong workforce.”

Type A leaders are not always good about letting go, especially knowing that they no longer control the future of a firm. That is probably why encore coaching and mentoring has become so popular. Relinquishing control seems a little bit easier when we can still offer our “two cents” worth of wisdom and advice. As Hickey admits, “You might not be ready to change your title from CEO to ‘coach’ but internalizing the differences between these two leadership approaches could make a huge difference.”

Whether or not future generations accept our advice or insights really does not matter. As long as both generations understand the give-and-take that comes with making leadership transitions, baby boomers will succeed in passing the baton, and millennials will succeed in carrying and valuing their new roles and responsibilities. The potential for a win-win for everyone is there if we just embrace the beneficial attributes of each generation.

Stephen Lucy is CEO of JQ with offices in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Lubbock and San Antonio, Texas. Contact him at

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