Over a large martini a Boomer lamented that her twentysomething workers were unresponsive to her offers of help, mentoring, and general transmission of office folklore. They evinced no interest in power or politics. “I’ve got six direct reports and not one of them has ever asked a question about my boss, other departments heads, no big picture questions! It’s as if they don’t care what anyone else is doing. Sometimes I think they are bored and just waiting for another opportunity to appear.”
Welcome to the great demographic divide. Whatever myth the Boomer tells herself she accurately assessed the mood of her direct reports. They see the job and the company as means to an end. It doesn’t matter what happened ten or even five years ago. Nothing matters that happened since the Great Recession began. You know this isn’t true. There are lessons in history if those lessons are grounded in the here and practical. If not, they are myths and fairy tales old people like.
The Boomers, with their much-lauded people skills aren’t the communicators they believe. For instance, techno twits are not role models anyone under 30 admires. Why be guided by someone who’s still longing for Word Perfect? Also, it’s not productive to demand admiration for accomplishments younger people don’t admire such as bamboozling a boss. You smoothed over a problem with your boss so that he hardly remembered he was mad at you. You didn’t solve the problem as the twentysomethings expected/wanted you to do.
Here’s the point: You can’t teach, lead or mentor in ways your audience doesn’t want to learn or follow. Is this too obvious? I see self-help books not to mention posts and newsletters which all describe how the author (a Boomer) would behave now if just starting out. This is the equivalent of discussing manufacturing today and not mentioning China and India or even Mexico. I am as susceptible to believing I have something to teach as any Boomer but that needs to be translated into the kinds of experiences these people have had. Yes, in the olden days we had school loans — but $150,000 for undergraduate? Not really. In fact, so much of the advice people want to share is worthless. Someone who didn’t have Facebook has a different expectation of privacy than someone who’s posted his/her own raunchy pictures.
So is the demographic divide unbridgable? No. But it depends on starting from the premise that the facts transcend ages, but interpretation of the facts is age defined. I like to start discussions with people half my age by asking: “What does this mean?” or “How did you read this situation.” Try it.
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