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CEO Insider

Conquering the Cohort Effect: The 5 Ps of Multigenerational Leadership

Dr. Sam Adeyemi


Is it a long-term career? A personal duty? A means to an end? A source of fulfillment?

In short, each option is correct, as each option characterizes a different generational understanding of the workplace — from Baby Boomers and Traditionalists to Millenials and Gen Zers. Such differences in perspective are often referred to as the “cohort effect,” and they can certainly add to the complexity of modern leadership. However, when leaders are prepared to navigate the many nuances involved, these generational differences allow for a more diverse and dynamic workforce. The result is greater productivity at every level and a more accessible working culture.

Such a culture is highly critical during the best of times, especially with growing diversity and Gen Z on track to account for 30% of the workforce by 2030. That said, it is absolutely essential for organizations confronting more daunting challenges, such as an impending merger, necessary downsizing, or a worldwide pandemic. In those instances, a successful leader must be able to transcend generational boundaries to offer guidance that is both poignant and universal. Not only that, this guidance must be understanding of every cohort’s specific needs in order to inspire team members who are increasingly diverse.

Is this even possible? How can you care for every cohort and become a more successful leader as a result? The best place for any executive to start is with the five Ps of multigenerational leadership: PRIDE, PURPOSE, PROCESS, PAYOFFS, and PASSION.

1. PRIDE. Where it all starts.

In March of 1973, a towering apartment building connected to the Skyline Plaza complex in Virginia came crashing to the ground. Though the buildings weren’t scheduled to open until August, the collapse killed 14 construction workers and injured 34. Not surprisingly, the cause of this tragedy was rooted in the building’s most vital structural supports, some of which had been prematurely removed from their forms and were unable to support their intended weight. Without a solid base upon which to build, nothing will last.

When an individual takes pride in themselves and their organization, the possibilities are endless. Sure, people are driven by external rewards, such as higher pay, well-deserved promotions, and positive feedback. However, these rewards can only go so far in compensating for a lack of intrinsic pride in one’s mission, which is a universal motivation across every generation. This makes cultivating pride among team members and within the organization itself a paramount responsibility for every successful leader. Pride is where it all starts — the supportive foundation on which to build everything else.

2. PURPOSE. Your source of strength. 

The migration of the monarch butterfly lasts four generations. When one generation dies, the next one is born with the innate genetic knowledge of where to go and what to do next. From Mexico to the Southern United States, every generation of monarch butterflies is instinctively devoted to a collective mission. This level of shared purpose can be incredibly powerful, but it is equally difficult to achieve on any level.

A purpose-minded leader is straightforward in communicating goals and objectives. These leaders open up a dialogue early on about the challenges and limitations of each task, clearly defining what actions are needed to be successful, as well as what it takes to accomplish each task in a timely manner. Your purpose is your source of strength. With a well-established purpose, your multi-generational team can begin its work from a place of trust and empowerment. Consequently, the most successful leaders make it a priority to collectively define the purpose of each project from the very beginning.

3. PROCESS. Innovative and inclusive.

Jean Bertin’s Aérotrain and the Union Pacific Big Boy are two of the weirdest, fastest, and most unsuccessful trains ever built. The Aérotrain was a jet-powered “hovertrain” similar to a monorail system, while the Big Boy was the heaviest locomotive on record, weighing more than three Boeing 747s. Unfortunately, both of these lightning-fast marvels were victims of their own process — outdated processes incapable of innovating into the future. The Big Boy was a relic of the steam age and was quickly phased out by the switch to diesel engines, while the Aérotrain was scrapped entirely for more energy-efficient electric designs.

Your processes are the everyday tools your team is using to succeed. As such, successful leaders make sure these processes are inclusive and clearly communicated with ample room for innovation and experimentation. When every member of a multi-generational team understands and agrees on the proper process, your team makes more confident decisions at every turn and feels more comfortable with brainstorming improvements to what’s working. Even with a solid foundation and a purpose-driven source of strength, no team can succeed without well-established processes that are both innovative and inclusive. 

4. PAYOFFS. Spell them out.

Nearly 80% of employees want some form of pay transparency in the workplace. What’s more, a recent rise in pay transparency has also narrowed many gaps in race-based and gender-based inequities. Why? Because clear communication is essential to fairly rewarding people for their efforts.

Successful leaders help their teams visualize the payoffs for each project, paying special attention to how each payoff may be prioritized by different generations. This sort of tailored transparency gives your team the drive and desire necessary to achieve their goals, and these payoffs are the final goal of the pride, purpose, and processes established thus far. These payoffs are the external rewards of a job well done, but they are also part of the reflection and feedback that follows any finalized project. With the right processes in place, your team members can freely exchange input across generations and better understand the value each individual brings to the project.

5. PASSION. Let it grow.

Despite the old adage, we all know that a “watched pot” boils water just as quickly as one unobserved. That said, I’m not so sure the same can be said for passion in the workplace. Passion is a very personal endeavor, and it will rarely reach its highest peaks unless it is given room to grow on its own accord.

Leaders cultivate passion by lighting a match and letting it catch fire when and where it might. When you step away from micromanagement and empower your employees to be creative and imaginative, you start a fire that is somewhat less directed, yet very difficult to extinguish. Employees devoid of passion can stifle the flames already burning within your multi-generational team, which is why it is so essential to see this passion spread throughout your organization. But, how do you cultivate the passion of different individuals across different generations? By standing back and letting it grow.

Your multi-generational team can find strength in its diversity. It can establish collective pride, purpose, and processes while respecting individual needs, then experience the greater payoffs and heightened passion of a team that is encouraged at every level. Are you minding the five Ps of multi-generational leadership? It’s time to get started. 

Written by Dr. Sam Adeyemi.

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Insider - Conquering the Cohort Effect: The 5 Ps of Multigenerational Leadership
Dr. Sam Adeyemi
Atlanta-based Dr. Sam Adeyemi (SAY: Ah Day yeh me) is the founder and executive director of Daystar Leadership Academy (DLA). More than 45,000 alumni have graduated from DLA programs, and more than 3 million CEOs and high-performing individuals follow him on top social media sites. Dr. Sam's new book is "Dear Leader: Your Flagship Guide to Successful Leadership." He holds a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Virginia's Regent University, and is a member of the International Leadership Association. He and his wife, Nike (say Nee keh) have three children and founded Daystar Christian Centre in Lagos, Nigeria.

Dr. Sam Adeyemi is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn, for more information, visit the author’s website CLICK HERE.