Generational Leadership Styles
Employer, People + Culture

What you need to know about generational leadership styles

From Baby Boomers to Gen Z, each generation has its own generational leadership styles. Discover what they are and how knowing them can benefit your business.

What’s the age range in your workplace?

For many companies, it can span the generations, from early twenties to pre-retirement.

Overall this variety can be a good thing. After all, diversity creates richer, more vibrant workplaces. However, employing people of different ages in one workplace can also lead to misunderstandings—and sometimes conflict.

This is often because each generation has unique attributes and experiences that shape their approaches and behaviour at work, including how they lead and manage others. The latter is what’s called ‘generational leadership styles’.

Here we look at these different leadership styles and how knowing what they are can benefit your business.

The current workforce five

Today, there are currently five distinct generations in the workforce:

  • Traditionalists (born before 1946)
  • Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)
  • Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980)
  • Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996)
  • Generation Z (born after 1996)

However, while five generations are generally listed, the reality is that Traditionalists and Baby Boomers are on their way out, leaving Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z largely dominating the world of work.

According to a recent whitepaper, Millennials will make up the largest percentage of the Australian workforce by 2025—as much as 75%.

Generational Leadership Styles

Different generational leadership styles

How do leadership styles differ between these five generations? Let’s take a look.

  • Traditionalists: Tend to be hierarchical, with a top-down leadership style emphasising discipline and respect for authority. They also value loyalty and hard work and have a sense of duty to their organisation.
  • Baby Boomers: Likely to be more collaborative than traditionalists but still have a hierarchical leadership style. They value hard work, loyalty, and achievement and often emphasise the importance of relationships in business.
  • Gen X: Typically more independent and self-reliant than previous generations and value work-life balance. They’re also more comfortable with technology than older generations. They want to be engaged with work and seen as easily approachable.
  • Millennials: Tend to be more collaborative and team-oriented than previous generations and place a high value on diversity and inclusion. They seek opinions before making decisions. They’re also generally more tech-savvy than previous generations.
  • Gen Z: They’re just beginning to enter the workforce, so their leadership style is still developing. They’re very comfortable with technology and social media and value authenticity and transparency. They want to inspire and prioritise people’s emotions and wellbeing.

Importantly, these different generational styles are generalisations. Not every person in a particular generation will fit these characteristics.  In addition, each leader will have their own unique approach to leadership, regardless of their generational background. But they provide a good benchmark.

How leadership has changed over the years

Generational leadership styles demonstrate the overarching shift we’ve seen in leadership over the past two decades.

Twenty years ago, leadership was autocratic and task-oriented. One person made all of the decisions, and the focus was on getting things done. At this time, it was easy to identify and develop leaders as the career path was linear.

Today, we live in a fast-changing world, facing constant commercial and technological disruption, and leaders need to be more adaptable. This has meant a shift to a more collaborative approach that fosters teamwork, productivity, innovation and creativity.

There has also been a shift from hard skills to soft skills and for leaders to be people rather than task oriented. They need to be aware of employees’ different personalities and how they respond to leadership.

Generational Leadership Styles

How understanding can help your business

Understanding the different generational leadership styles and the overarching shift in approach that has happened in the past twenty years offers valuable insights that can benefit businesses in many ways, including:

  • Enhanced communication: Understanding the differences in communication styles can help leaders communicate more effectively with their team members, leading to better collaboration and productivity.
  • Increased engagement: Different generations have different expectations and needs in the workplace. By understanding these differences, leaders can create a more engaging and motivating workplace for everyone.
  • Enhanced team dynamics: Understanding generational leadership styles can help leaders create more diverse and inclusive teams, leading to better team dynamics and improved performance.
  • Better recruitment and retention: Different generations may have different priorities and values when it comes to work. By understanding these differences, you can tailor your recruitment and retention strategies to better meet the needs and expectations of your target candidates.
  • Improved leadership development: Knowing these different leadership styles can help businesses develop future leaders by providing a better understanding of the skills and qualities needed to lead different generations effectively.

Ultimately, understanding generational leadership styles can help you create a more inclusive and productive workplace, improve communication and collaboration, and better meet the needs and expectations of your team members.

Do you want to create a more constructive culture with happy, productive employees? Our HR specialists can help you better understand, upskill and develop your leaders. Start a conversation.


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