Published on: October 7, 2014by Michael Sansolo
Among the many complexities facing business leaders these days, there may be none more challenging that learning how to cope with the multiple generations of employees and shoppers around today.
We know we need to fill the aisles of stores with a combination of people who read circulars and are puzzled by “twittering,” mixed with people who download news and binge watch television shows. And that’s just the start of the generational balancing act.
That’s why when we get the rare gift of a wildly public example of generational mismatches in the workplace we need pay attention and try to learn, no matter how distant the lesson. The mistakes made really far from your workplace can still help you.
Now that’s a long way of explaining why this year you need to care about what happened at the Ryder Cup, a golf tournament that many of us (me included) managed to miss completely a few weeks back.
The tournament is the rare time golfers play in teams. Every two years it pits players from the US against their counterparts in Europe in a series of different formats. Since this is MNB, I've found the inevitable management lesson…
The story from the Cup this year wasn’t the European victory, which has become somewhat commonplace in the past decade. Rather, the dominant story has been the open griping by most accomplished American player, Phil Mickelson, about the management style of team captain Tom Watson.
Watson’s management style seemed to be basically: my way or the highway. He was criticized for his decisions (selecting which players would play at specific times) and for not developing much rapport with his all-star team. As sports reporters on the scene pointed out, Watson seemed to have trouble connecting with his youngest players—hardly a surprise since at age 65 he’s three times their age.
In a press conference immediately after the defeat, Mickelson talked about the need for the US team to bring back the leadership approach used by a past captain; an approach that involved the players more deeply in every element of the tournament. It should be noted that he said this with Watson at his side.
Now obviously, this isn’t a typical workplace or even a typical athletic team. This was a short tournament featuring extremely talented and wealthy performers who usually work on their own, forced for a week into a collaborative effort.
Then again, it’s very typical. We hear repeatedly that the younger generations - the Xers and Millennials - thrive under different workplace conditions than their elders. Involvement, communication and feedback are very different today than they were decades ago when I started my career.
Our younger associates these days have grown up in the era of constant communication and feedback. Imagine someone who is used to getting instantaneous text responses waiting a year for an employee review or being told their input isn’t wanted in how decisions are made?
Here’s the thing: depending on your age or experience you might view the kerfuffle over the Ryder Cup very differently. Some may see Mickelson as a malcontent who didn’t get his way and groused. Others may see him wanting greater involvement to help his team succeed.
Conversely, some may blame Watson for failing to properly motivate his team and understand how to make them excel. Others may praise him as a very straightforward manager trying to get the most from his team.
And to be clear, it isn't like Mickelson is a kid. He's 44. But in this case, he may have a better sense of how to connect to and communicate with younger players than Watson did.
Either way, we can see a clear example of today’s workplace generational gap and it’s a topic you need to consider. This gap is simply too big to avoid.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here.
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