We do a lot of consulting with leadership teams, partner groups and business owners. We regularly encounter tension between the young, up-and-comers and the “more mature,” still-working-but-leaving-in-a-few-years team members. Unfortunately, it seems that these generational groups form alliances and, as they become more entrenched in their “mini groups,” they stop listening to each other from trust, respect and unity.

Granted, there are natural tensions between the young and the more mature in all facets of life, where those with more experience, money and power want to transition these assets at some point “out there in the future” and the young want to gain these things as soon as possible – preferably now. Young people want to have more influence and power and to ensure that decisions benefit their organizations, and them, longer-range. The more mature team members are usually more concerned about giving up too much, too fast. They want to make sure their younger folks are ready for the additional responsibility while continuing to reap the rewards of their years of sacrifice, risk and investment and share more handsomely in the firm’s success at this stage in their career.

Great leaders realize they need to teach their people to understand both perspectives and help their team members realize that the tension of the generations is a natural part of the business and human life cycle. Instead of hearing the young as “impertinent, impatient, ungrateful, self-gratifying, or unwilling to do what I did,” mature leaders should work to hear their inputs and ideas as, “enthusiastic, full of fire, perhaps not seeing all of the implications yet, anxious to take on more and committed to the success of our team as a whole.”

When youthful team members can trust that they were being heard by their more mature counterparts in a hopeful way, they may also then listen to those from an older generation less from, “controlling, selfish, know-it-all, and out-of-touch” and instead hear them as “experienced, battle savvy, able to foresee things I might not be able to, and also committed to the success of our team as a whole.”

Now, what would happen if you stopped hearing, and interpreting, the things others said in your firm in these generationally-resentful ways?

I encourage you to listen to your thoughts and the things you say to others in your age group to see if you’re guilty of feeding the generation gap in your firm. If you are, consider a more positive, hopeful way of hearing those older or younger than you. After all, just think of what your team could accomplish if you weren’t competing generationally and instead, both sides heard each other more hopefully, coming from a place of respect and moving toward middle ground!

How do you address the generational challenges in your firm? What have you done to build unity between the different age groups in your organization? Please let us hear from you!


Jennifer Wilson