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Leading the Five-Generation Workforce – The Leadership That Works Newsletter

by | Mar 31, 2023

At ConantLeadership, we’re committed to lifelong learning and continuous improvement. In service to your leadership growth, each month we curate the Leadership That Works Newsletter, a digest of timely resources from around the web. We prepare this resource in order to:

  • Share actionable advice from top leadership luminaries
  • Celebrate a range of viewpoints worthy of consideration (inclusion is not an endorsement)
  • Contextualize workplace trends through a leadership lens
  • Illuminate cultural recalibrations in the world of work
  • Support your personal development in life, leadership, and beyond

In this month’s Leadership That Works Newsletter: The secret to giving tough feedback, why you might need a career break, the 5 Rs of ‘The Great Reset,’ how to harness the power of age diversity, and more. As alwayswe’re sharing the content from our newsletter here on our blog in case you’re not subscribed to our mailing list. If you find these links enriching, you can sign up to receive our newsletter right here.

Age Diversity & the Five-Generation Workforce

“‘OK, Boomer,’ ‘Gen X cynics,’ ‘entitled Millennials,’ and ‘Gen Z snowflakes.’ We have become so entrenched in generational name-calling—or, conversely, so focused on downplaying the differences that do exist—that we have forgotten there is strength in age diversity,” write the authors of this Harvard Business Review article on harnessing the power of an intergenerational workforce. As five generations work side by side today, the authors say that, “lack of trust between older and younger workers,” causes resentment and dampens productivity. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Age-diverse teams can be managed effectively, allowing members to “share a wide array of skills, knowledge, and networks with one another.”

Drawing from tools and tactics that, “have been used by cross-cultural teams for decades,” the authors offer a four-part framework for leading age-diverse groups.

1. Identify your assumptions

2. Adjust your lens

3. Take advantage of differences

4. Embrace mutual learning

For each of the four parts in the framework, the authors offer an activity with detailed instructions to bring each step to life. Working through these steps can help leaders frame age-diverse talent as “an opportunity to be seized rather than a threat to be managed.” Get the full story here.

**For more on this, explore this new OECD report on retaining talent at all ages

The Power of Framing

Most people who have studied or practiced leadership over the past twenty years have been exposed to Amy Edmondson’s concept of “psychological safety,” which shows, through research, that in order to get better outcomes, leaders must create safe conditions for employees to voice their opinions, make mistakes, and be themselves.

In this fascinating Leading Sapiens post, Sheril Mathews drills down on one crucial aspect of creating psychological safety: The power of “framing,” which is all about how you shape and communicate information to constituents. He writes: “Leaders have an outsized influence on how things get interpreted, and the key skill is framing.” He cites a study showing the “single most powerful factor,” in the success of a new initiative was how the initiative was communicated.

Mathews says that while framing is, “a well-researched and well-understood phenomenon in the social and behavioral sciences,” still, “most leaders are not adept at using it skillfully.” To help, he has compiled a comprehensive guide—including an explanation of the key types of framing and five tips for getting better at the skill. Get the full story here.

The 5 ‘Great Rs’ of the ‘Great Reset’

As COVID reshaped our world over the past several years, we’ve covered many workplace transformations in this newsletterfrom ‘The Great Resignation’ to ‘The Great Breakup.’ This Fast Company piece casts these seismic eruptions as an interconnected group called, “The Great Reset,” defined as, “a convergence of trends some decades in the making that culminate in a changed relationship between individuals and organizations.” “The Great Reset,” is defined by five “Great Rs,” which together have created a more “empowered workforce.” The five Rs are:

  • The Great Resignation
  • The Great Retirement
  • The Great Reshuffle
  • The Great Refusal
  • The Great Relocation

Packaged as a suite of shifts, these changes point to a new paradigm: “We are no longer centered on where we work, but rather on where work fits in our lives.” And tapping into the lessons of the five Great Rs may help leaders attract and engage top talent. Get the full story here.

**For more on these workplace themes and trends, explore our newsletter archive

Burned Out? You Might Need a Career Break

As a plague of burnout and stress has swept through the professional world, workers across hierarchiesfrom the frontline to the C-suitehave been rethinking their careers. Many are looking for solutions in the face of cascading stressors. “For some, a break from work altogether has proven to be the best option,” says this Fortune piece which highlights how some professionals reset their ambition by taking temporary hiatuses from work.

The coverage explains, “growing number of employers are offering their employees sabbaticals to provide the time workers need to truly feel refreshed—and ready to tackle the working world again.” But because sabbaticals are still “a rare perk,” Fortune spoke with three leaders who took a different tack and quit their jobs completely for, “extended periods, ranging from six weeks to one year.” The feature gives readers a glimpse into how they might structure their own career breaks. All three interviewees experienced rejuvenation and growth, and returned to work happier than when they’d left: “They didn’t feel less ambitious during the break; if anything, the time away re-energized them and allowed them the space to reflect on life, work, and their place in the world.” Now, they all find themselves more fulfilled professionally in new roles. Their advice to people structuring their own breaks? Don’t wait until you’re “100% exhausted” to make the leap, and make sure you have an adequate support system. Get the full story here.

How to Recruit the Class of 2023

Recent layoffs in big tech have dominated the headlines and spread angst and distrust. But it’s not all doom and gloom. This turbulent moment also offers, “the opportunity to build a deep and transformative tech bench,” says this Forbes piece on how to recruit young talent. Seizing the moment all starts, “with this coming class of college graduates,” who have, “been forged in a different crucible and view the world of work a little differently than the millennials who came before them.” Companies looking to attract the class of ’23 and their contemporaries should understand the top three things they value:

1. Stability. These students grew up during a recession and went to college in a pandemic. They are drawn to “enduring companies in established industries,” and, “are on the lookout for companies that offer career pathing,” because they, “want to land a good job and keep it for a while.”

2. Flexibility. The class of ’23 wants some in-person and in-office experiences and are even willing to relocate for the right opportunity but they, “don’t want to work exclusively in the office. More than 60% want hybrid options that let them work remotely at times.”

3. Impact. Gen Z yearns to make a difference and, “is open to a wide-range of industries,” that offer the promise of improving the world. They want “to work for companies that embrace sustainable practices,” and will, “do good in their industries and communities.”

To start building the next generation of leaders, offer stability, flexibility, and impact. Get the full story here.

Be Here Now

“Some people postpone ‘real life’ to distant points in the future, subconsciously telling themselves it’s when they graduate, or get married, or switch jobs, or retire, that the truly meaningful part of life will begin,” writes Oliver Burkeman in a recent edition of his The Imperfectionist newsletter. Burkeman himself used to operate this way, eschewing fulfillment today in favor of white-knuckling through drudgery with hopes of a reward tomorrow. His disillusionment with this approach led him to reshape his life with a, “baseline principle for living a calm, meaningfully productive, and enjoyable life,” which is: “Striving toward sanity never works. You have to operate from sanity instead.”

Burkeman defines sanity here as referring, “broadly to what it feels like to live the kind of life you want to be living,” which for him means being, “calm, focused, meaningful, connected to others,” as opposed to, “anxious, overwhelmed, isolated, and distracted.” To embrace sanity immediately, rather than prolonging its mirage in the distant future, means, “embodying a certain orientation toward life now, first, then doing stuffrather than doing the stuff in an effort to attain the orientation.” This requires doing a switcheroo from conventional wisdom and prioritizing the things you love and value before prioritizing the things you don’t. Otherwise, he warns: “If you treat sanity as something you have to get to, by doing a lot of preparatory things first, the main effect will be to reinforce the sense of its being out of reach.” Get practical examples, and the full story, here.

Secrets to Giving Tough Feedback

“Giving negative feedback is unpleasant at an almost visceral level,” writes Jessica Love in this Kellogg Insight piece on having hard leadership conversations, but managers must learn to deal with this kind of discomfort. Luckily, there are three critical things you can do to, “prepare for a tough conversation about your employee’s performance.” The first thing to do is, “clarify the purpose of your conversation.” This sounds simple enough, but it’s important to distinguish between your “big-P Purpose,” and your, “small-p purpose.” The big-p Purpose is about the big picture: It’s what, “you want the conversation to accomplish for you, for your employee, for the relationship between the two of you, or for the broader organization.” Whereas the small-p purpose is more granular: It’s, “your goal for the single conversation for which you are preparing,” and should focus on identifying, “things that you can absolutely control.” For example, “You cannot control whether your employee overhauls their behavior; you can control whether you raise the performance issue with clarity and then set a specific date to follow up on that issue.” Get all three secrets for giving tough feedback in the full story here.

The Limitations of AI

As AI technology has rapidly developed, many scientists and researchers have sounded the alarm about the ways these machines inherit and mimic human biasresulting in tech that often discriminates on race, gender, and ability. One renowned expert who warns of the issues that arise when we over-apply AI to social problems is Meredith Broussard, a data scientist, professor, and author of the book More Than a Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech. In this MIT Technology Review interview with Broussard, many of AI’s limitations are discussed in a format that can help leaders make decisions about the role of AI in their own organizations.

First, Broussard pushes back on the idea that an AI-ruled world should be a foregone conclusion: “This kind of imagined endgame of ‘Oh, we’re just going to use AI for everything,’ is not a future that I cosign,” she says. And she balks at the idea that one day the bias infecting AI will be “fixed,” and, “that that’s the goal everybody should strive for.” Broussard puts it simply: “AI is just math. I don’t think that everything in the world should be governed by math. Computers are really good at solving mathematical issues. But they are not very good at solving social issues.” And, she says, AI is discordant with the human need for serendipity and the reality of an uncertain world: “I absolutely understand the urge to make machines that make the future less ambiguous. But we do have to live with the unknown and leave space for us to change as people.”

As AI technology progresses, Broussard does point to “algorithmic auditing,” which is, “the process of looking at an algorithm and examining it for bias,” as a bright spot for the future, and says she is, “very optimistic about the role of auditing in helping us make algorithms more fair and more equitable.” Get the full story here.

Insights & Resources from ConantLeadership

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Leaders, March Towards Courage

In this new blog, explore four tips for increasing your capacity for leadership courage with inspiration from Maya Angelou, Stephen Covey, Indra Nooyi, and more.

February’s Leadership That Works Newsletter

In last month’s newsletter: The four types of thinkers, how to fight ’empathy’ fatigue, why ‘energy management’ trumps ‘time management,’ the state of DEI, and more.

Save the Date for the 5th Biannual BLUEPRINT Leadership Summit

April 24th – April 28th

Back by popular demand: Join us for this free week-long special event hosted by Doug Conant and featuring top leadership luminaries & CEOs.


Amy FedermanAbout the Author: Amy Federman is ConantLeadership’s Director of Content and Editor in Chief, and co-author with Doug Conant of the WSJ bestseller, The Blueprint.

(Cover photo by Stefan Schwinghammer on Unsplash )

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Author of The Speed of Trust

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