4 Keys to Cross-Generational Leadership

Published August 20, 2019


DiversityLeading OthersTeam Building

When I stepped into my first formal leadership role, I was only 19 years old. I was working in the hospitality industry and honored to be given the opportunity to lead. I was excited to help the organization continue to grow and succeed.

However, there was one peculiar fact about the people I was leading—all of them were older than I was! As you can imagine, the fact that I was younger was often met with resistance and comments that diminished my value.

Today, in mid-career leadership, I work with a generationally-diverse group of people. Many are younger or older than I, and some are my age. What I’m finding, more and more, is there are biases and stereotypes that we all carry with us about generational differences. Those beliefs can cause friction and conflict on our teams.


Over the years, I’ve found 4 keys to help smooth the rough edges so you can optimize working relationships on a generationally diverse team.


1. Start with common ground.

We imagine that people from another generation are vastly different from what they actually are. We have far more in common with people than what it may seem like on the surface. When we only focus on our differences, it makes it difficult to work and relate well with each other. So, strive to find common ground with those who are generationally different from you.


2. Be adaptable.

Say it with me, “I don’t have all the answers.” Isn’t that freeing? According to experts, a generationally diverse team will get better results if we allow everyone to be a part of the process. I have had many moments when I went into a situation thinking I had it all worked out only to learn that someone else had a better way forward. It’s easy to think, “They’re too old.” Or “They’re too young.” But that only stunts your growth as an organization.


3. Listen with empathy.

Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church, once said, “Closed minds close minds.” Sometimes, listening with an open mind and an open heart can go a long way. When we listen with empathy to a person from a different generation, we communicate that he/she is valuable to us. When a person feels valued, they will be happier, more productive and a better part of the team.


4. Accept minor losses as major wins.

This may be the toughest one…but it is so important. People love to feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. They not only love it, but I believe they need it. Especially when it comes to generations. The older generation often feels “pushed out” and the younger generation often feels like “they don’t have a seat at the table.” As a leader, letting others “win” in the small things helps us all win the major victories. So, if there are times when you can let others decide, lead and influence, do it.

The beauty of these four keys is that they’re not just for the leader. I would recommend sharing them with your team and you will see your team soar to new heights.

About the Author
Tim Parsons serves as lead pastor at The Journey Church outside Indianapolis, a host site for the GLS. His passion is to help people lead better—at work and at home.

Tim Parsons

Lead Pastor

The Journey Church (Indianapolis, IN)

Tim Parsons serves as lead pastor at The Journey Church outside Indianapolis. With a passion to help people lead better at work and at home, his church has been a longtime partner with us as a Premier Host for The Global Leadership Summit. He is the co-author of the new devotional for men, Equipping the Warrior and author of the soon to be released 40-day devotional on spiritual health, The Journey. You can  connect with Tim at timparsons.me.