Years ago, when I was working in a mentoring program, I stumbled upon an uncomfortable realization. At the time, my career was just beginning, and yet, I was considered an “old guard” in the organization. I had already poured myself into this particular company and then suddenly I was standing on the precipice of change. A new swath of younger leaders was stepping up and I was beginning to feel….irrelevant. The uncomfortable realization was that I was not as secure as I once perceived myself to be. It’s not unrelated to one of the fears that I observe Boomers have regarding Millennials. Let me explain further before providing a possible solution.
First, Boomers fear that they are becoming irrelevant. The boomer generation, as the name implies, has for a long period of time naturally called the shots in American society. Culturally, professionally, and spiritually, they have set the tone for how we engage our world. But, lately, there has been a new force that has risen, a generation that is just as large and just as set on remaking the culture. As Millennials step into more and more positions of leadership, it is easy for Boomers to feel their influence slipping away. It’s the reason, at times, that Boomers react while also trying to exercise a certain degree of control. It’s not an uncommon reaction for those who perceive their influence is slipping away.
Second, Boomers fear that Millennials, and to a certain degree Gen-Xers, don’t have either the stamina or the work ethic to carry forward the organizations which they have led for decades. A common complaint is that the Millennials are lazy; they are not committed; they don’t share the same values. I can understand this perception. Millennials, and to a certain degree Gen-Xers, have different perceptions of commitment. Millennials seek a balance between work and family which can give the impression that they won’t do what it takes to get the job done. However, that perception of Millennials is really a misnomer. Millennials, when activated, are highly committed as a generation. Just observe places like Fuse Co-working and you will see a group of highly focused, highly achieving Millennials committed to bringing new ideas to life.
Third, Boomers fear that Millennials are reshaping the world to look more like, gulp, the world of their parents. Boomers came into the culture and started dismantling traditions that they perceived were no longer effective. Business workplaces became more casual. The value of leading teams grew and began to permeate methodologies. Churches started meeting in movie theaters and upending how worship was defined. Now the Millennials have come into influence and they too are transforming their environments. But some of what they are changing closely mirrors that of the generation before the Boomers, the Traditionalist. In churches, for example, there is a movement back to what can be called the sacred, the traditional, and a connection to what has stood the test of time. Millennials are a more interconnected generation, wanting to join with other Millennials to accomplish something that is worthwhile and feels impactful. For Millennials, it’s about what “we” can do together instead of heralding individual achievement, again similar to the Traditionalist.
So, what is the answer for Boomers? The tides of time dictate that we cannot go backwards. Every generation has their moment in the spotlight and then it changes. I intentionally wrote “changes” and not fades because I believe that Boomers are still incredibly important to our culture but in a role they have to be comfortable with. Because Millennials desire to do things well and have a high desire to succeed, Boomers have a natural opportunity to be coaches. Not coaches who bark orders from the sidelines, but those who roll up their sleeves and try to walk in Millennials’ flip flops. It’s coaching by influence and thoughtful words that others will be shaped and encouraged. It’s coaching that starts with believing in Millennials, thinking the best, and wanting to help them flourish. It’s an incredible time to be a Boomer; your best days truly can be ahead of you. But it will mean letting go of fears and embracing these new, fresh, passionate, and committed Millennials.
If I can be of help with your organization in bringing generations together, please drop me a note. It never costs to grab coffee and I would love exploring these ideas with you.
Until next time,