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New generation leadership: is leadership an age?

Iluta Gaile | March 15, 2023

It has often been said that age is just a number, but whether or not this is the case in the working world is highly debated. Discrimination can be felt at both ends of the age spectrum and a lack of age diversity has been proven time again to be detrimental to the growth and stability of organizations. So how to combine the old and new school of leadership?

Age is still the biggest barrier to career development 

Most workplaces still have a traditional work environment in which company management favors employees with more seniority in high management positions, meaning that older employees are at the top management team while younger employees start at the very bottom of the career ladder. International research shows that age discrimination is linked to negative attitudes and stereotypical assumptions. For example, younger employees may be perceived as lazy, less reliable, less conscientious and organized, and less motivated due to their age. In practice, younger employees also tend to receive lower pay and benefits than more experienced ones and are more at risk of being laid off during a company downturn. But there is also an age bias in the working environment called "ageism", whereby it is difficult for employees over 50 years of age to find a job.

Stereotypes determine a leadership age

Although potential candidates are being evaluated based on professional qualifications, work experience and age still have an impact on the final hiring decision. In many companies, there are still stereotypes from leading managers who evaluate the professional abilities of candidates according to age – firstly, the candidate is too young to be a manager, because it is considered that they do not have the necessary skills and experience, or are old to lead a junior team or on a more innovative project. In most cases, there are stereotypes of employers who are used to the traditional hierarchy of the work environment and old-fashioned assumptions that younger candidates are not experienced enough. A multigenerational work environment is an inclusive work environment in all senses and aspects –companies should consider all candidates equally and look for opportunities for multigenerational teams to work both on projects and under its management.

A multigeneration work environment where leaders from different generations are clearly identified and mutually respected 

Recruiters need to understand that building a multigenerational team in the workplace allows employees to learn from each other. Older employees can pass on knowledge gained through experience to younger employees, while younger employees can teach them how to use new technologies and modern methods. Both parties benefit from the opportunity to challenge and motivate each other – older employees bring many years of experience and proven ideas, while younger managers provide a creative, fresh and modern perspective on a company's functionality, its problem solving and achieving goals.

Millennials - leaders of the "new school" 

For Gen Z, being a leader is not a job title or a personality trait, but a form of social responsibility: taking on challenges to help others regardless of personal gain. These are leaders who possessgreater empathy and ambitious social goals. Generation Z perceives effective leadership as a leadership construct that emphasizes authenticity, adaptability, flexibility, and work-life balance.

When there is a generational conflict, it is usually because the team sees the "old school" versus the "new school" management style as a battle between good and evil. But smart leaders see “old school” and “new school” not as polar opposites, but as different sources of knowledge, experience, and energy that can contribute to a richer and more productive work environment.

When it comes to leadership, age doesn’t matter – competence does 

There are two kinds of people: those who don't know what they don't know, and those who know what they don't know. The difference between the two is related to experience. People who don't know what they don't know are usually either younger professionals starting their careers who lack experience, or older professionals who haven't gained competence and maturity in their field as they move up the career ladder. History is full of examples of leaders who have succeeded and failed at every age. In reality, employers care about the professional contribution an employee can make, not their age. Passion, character, commitment, determination and talent are infinitely more important than an employee's year of birth.

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