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5 Things Younger Leaders Can’t Stand About Older Leaders

older leaders

As you may have noticed, there’s a bit of tension in the workplace and in culture these days.

Younger leaders are complaining (a lot) about older leaders (who are often their bosses).

Older leaders are complaining (a lot) about younger leaders.

The ‘Okay, Boomer’ moment happening in our culture right now is just the tip of the iceberg, but it crystallizes how young leaders are feeling about older leaders.

I’m one of those older leaders. As a Gen X’er myself, I’ve been at countless breakfasts and meetings with people my age or older who, about a decade ago, started complaining about younger leaders.

More recently, I’ve heard an equal number of younger leaders (the bulk of my readers are leaders under the age of 40) complain about their bosses and how frustrated they are with their older co-workers.

It shouldn’t be surprising then that, as revealed by a Gallup study, 70% of US employees are disengaged at work.

So, I decided to do a survey to get more feedback on what’s really going on.

I Surveyed Over 900 Leaders

I recently surveyed over 900 leaders about their experiences with the opposite generations at work. Rather than trying to get statistics, I solicited feedback. Attitudes. Stories. Perspectives.

And I did I get an earful from all sides.

I heard from CEOs, entrepreneurs, engineers, pastors, lawyers, office managers, teachers, accountants, project managers, church staff, EAs and many other kinds of leaders.

I asked younger leaders (Gen Z and Millennials) to tell me what frustrates them about older leaders (Gen X and Boomers), and older leaders to tell me what frustrates them about younger leaders (that post comes out next in this series).

To get us started, I asked Millennials and Gen Z respondents to complete this sentence:

My biggest complaint about older leaders at work is…

Well, they told me. Wow.

I mean I knew anecdotally from conversations with leaders that there were challenges. I just had no idea the animosity and frustration ran so deep.

So what’s going on?

Honestly, some of these criticisms hurt. But if you ignore feedback that hurts, you’ll stop growing. Leaders, being willing to hear what’s wrong is a first step toward making things right.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding, tension and miscommunication in the workplace. I’ll share some strategies at the end of this post on how to handle that.

Ready to hear the complaints?

Brace yourself. Here we go…

#1 They’re Not Open to Change 

When you read through the hundreds of responses I got from younger leaders about their bosses, the refrain was almost unanimous.

The #1 complaint about older leaders by younger leaders (by FAR) is that older leaders aren’t open to change.

Here are just a smattering of direct quotes from  young leaders about their bosses and older co-workers:

Stuck in their ways with tons of blind spots and no willingness to listen or learn. Which breeds no hope for change.

Not willing to let go of the way things were done 30 years ago, let alone 10.

Most of them want to do it the way it always been done. I actually heard that from them.

They want everything done the way they did it in the 80’s and 90’s while saying they want innovation and freshness.

They have so much history behind them, they don’t want to try something because they did before, and it didn’t work.

Living in the past, as if it were better than the future possibilities.

Change is a dirty word for older leaders.

To a certain extent, I get it. Older leaders bring a lot of experience and wisdom to the table.

At least I hope I do as a 50+ leader myself. So it’s easy to want to think we know what someone 20 or 30 years our junior doesn’t.

But, you have to admit leaders…things are changing quickly.

Two quick realities about change.

First, realize the past has a nostalgia the future never does. You remember the good parts of the past, but tend to minimize the bad parts or how challenging it was.

Change takes as much courage now as it did then. Change may have been easier then because you were younger, but it’s just as important now as it was when you were 23. Maybe even more so. Why?

Because the gap between how quickly you change and how quickly things change is called irrelevance. And things just keep changing faster and faster every year.

Ignore that and you lose out on more than you think.

Guess what young leaders who see older leaders as irrelevant tend to do? They leave.

Which explains a lot of what’s happening these days. If you won’t change, young leaders will find someone who will. Or they’ll simply launch their own thing.

#2 Older Leaders Are Inflexible

Again and again, young leaders complained about how inflexible their bosses and older colleagues were. Here are some direct quotes from young leaders:

Set in their methods, not flexible in how work gets done.

They refuse to let go of their power/authority/decision-making rights.

On the occasion that they do give up their rights, they are quick to take them back when things don’t go exactly the way they wanted.

Not forward thinking, not engaging the next generation, not adventurous.

Inability to be flexible and understand that a flex schedule, working from home, having informal meetings to discuss ideas are all a benefit to productive work, and that doesn’t mean that I’m not a hard worker or slacking off.

While there’s a lot in these comments, read that last comment again.

There’s a rising tide of young leaders who want a flexible workplace.

For so many reasons, 8-4 doesn’t work anymore in an era of wifi, cloud-based computing and smartphones. In an age where you don’t have to go to the office because the office goes to you, way too many leaders are still living like it’s 1997.

Why do you need to be in at 8 when there’s no need to be?

Tomorrow on my leadership podcast, I’ll bring on two of my young team members and we’ll talk about how to lead a thriving team with no office, timesheets, or regular in-person meetings.  Believe it or not, it works. Amazingly well. (You can subscribe for free to my podcast here. Watch for Episode 306 when it goes live.)

A virtual office or team may not be right for you, but just know this: the future workplace is a flexible workplace.

If you don’t flex your methods, you’ll sacrifice your mission.

#3 They Think They Know Everything

This was a surprising finding on both sides. Young leaders think older leaders are arrogant. Older leaders think young leaders are full of themselves (more on that in the next post).

Here’s what young leaders wrote about older leaders:

Their way is the ONLY way.

They rarely understand what I’m saying.

A lack of curiosity — they’ve figured a lot out already.

They mention my age a ton. They’ll make off-handed comments about me being young. Though they have more experience than I do, they think they know more about social media than I do. There’s not an acknowledgment of areas where I have expertise where they don’t.

They don’t ask good questions or hear all the voices in the room.

Pride is a problem for so many of us in leadership.

Note to self: Older leaders, if you think you know all the answers, don’t be surprised if the next generation stops asking questions and simply leaves.

And correct. That’s what’s already happening. They’re leaving.

#4. Too Many Rules

Ah, rules. Chances are you didn’t like them when you were a young leader.

The next generation feels the same way.

Here’s what young leaders said about their bosses:

They’re more concerned with policy than people.

They are hesitant to make changes and try out new ideas. They are led more by policy and procedure than by passion.

Develops and mandates policy to manage exceptions.

Their rigidness on older rules. (i.e. Tattoos in the workplace).

I’m not against all rules or guidelines. You need to have a few parameters.

But here’s what’s true: Rules are often a substitute for real leadership and open conversations. They’re also a substitute for trust.

More and more organizations are moving to flex hours, flexible holidays (pick your own quantity of vacation and days off), and outcomes-based leadership. In other words, they’re dropping old rules.

Regardless of where you land on that (I keep rules to an absolute minimum, or have none), just know that a high-rules organization is usually a low-trust organization.

And a high-trust workplace is a healthy workplace.

#5 Too Slow

A final complaint about older leaders is that older leaders are too slow. Again, some direct feedback from younger leaders:

They are slow.  Slow to change. Slow to adopt new technology.

They are slow to make decisions.

Always feeling like older leaders are moving (not literally physically moving) too slow, and that younger leaders are expected to slow down to match them.

If you’re worried about being too slow as a leader, surround yourself with younger leaders and give them permission to lead and experiment.

The best older leaders don’t restrain the next generation, they release them.

What Should You Do About This?

I am a fan of all four generations currently in the workplace. This is far more fixable than you think.

As you’ll see in the next post, older leaders complain that younger leaders are lazy, entitled and think they know everything.

Here’s what’s true: so much of the misunderstanding between the generations in the workplace is about how we worknot whether we work.  The solution is not to clear house and get rid of older leaders, or frustrate younger leaders so badly they leave or start their own thing (which more and more are doing, by the way).

I’ll be sharing a lot of new content on how to lead and manage better in your company, church or organization over the next few weeks.

What Are You Seeing?

Well, I know this is a loaded post. The goal is to be helpful. If you don’t see the problem, you can’t fix the problem.

And remember, older leaders have just as many complaints about younger leaders, which we’ll get to in the next post. So play nice.

The goal is to get us all working together well to move the mission forward.

So with that in mind, anything else you see or want to add that can help us create workplaces that have a much higher impact?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

5 Things Younger Leaders Can’t Stand About Older Leaders

62 Comments

  1. Kevin Mann on August 17, 2020 at 7:07 am

    I was taught at a very early age to earn respect from those who were older than myself. It was taught to me that it was a way of “putting change in your pocket”. However, that did not mean that I schmoozed up to those in higher authority to make them see me more important than anyone else. I always started out listening more than I spoke and as time went on my past bosses and leaders started to ask me what my opinion was. It was then that I started to share my heart and the reasons why change needed to take place. It’s amazing how taking a little time to earn respect can change the world. The problem in today’s world is that many people want change to happen so fast that it doesn’t lend itself to honor and respect. This is a great article for any age person to grab a hold of. Thank you Carry for posting this!

    • Rudy Kebreau on August 18, 2020 at 6:16 pm

      I don’t necessarily agree. I think with the rise of technology everything has sped up. As pastors and leaders, we have to understand we no longer live in days where time was a luxury. The longer it takes us to adapt, the more influence we give up.

  2. Colin on August 16, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    I am curious to know what GOOD things are being said about the generations… and how do we build mentoring and reverse mentoring into the presents scenario.

    • Donnae on September 3, 2020 at 8:50 am

      Me too!

  3. Rhonda Dohner on August 16, 2020 at 7:52 pm

    This is GREAT insight! I am a 56 year old Children’s Ministry Leader and I recognize the need for younger influences and change! Thank you for this reminder for the need to release leadership that looks different then what I envision. Yet, may our wisdom also be invited to be part of the answers to reaching this next generation for Jesus!

  4. Lorraine T. on August 16, 2020 at 2:29 pm

    I didn’t go through all the comments, (there are a lot) but I thought it funny that the first few were the older people getting snippy about what the younger people said. Not listening to your words (which you said a few times, “your turn is next pod”) but defending themselves & going against the younger’s views. Not listening.
    I’m a boomer (the bottom end) & work with millennial’s, x’s etc.
    There are times we agree & times we don’t. But I listen to them, they listen to me & we work together. I happen to be a person that loves change so that isn’t usually a problem but I see them sometimes dismiss older people & I see my job is to explain why they shouldn’t. Basically interpret the older peoples thoughts & feelings, so they know how to make the changes so everyone is on board with them. In the end it’s easier for everyone.
    I think this is a great article & I will keep it in mind as I go forward. I”m looking forward to the next pod.

  5. Trace Howard on August 16, 2020 at 2:02 pm

    Older/Younger

    Regarding 5 things younger leaders dislike about older leaders, I think there is value to the five elements. Yet, the opposite might also apply regarding how older leaders think of younger leaders – ultimately, it boils down to respect for experience and wisdom . I have listed my own five which flip those listed in your post.

    1. Not open to listening or getting input.
    2. Too fluid, running from one flavor to the next rather than applying trans-generational “principles” in different ways
    3. They think they know everything – it is interesting how things that are being passed off as “new” are the same as yesterday, only with a new veneer or name; they do not respect those who have gone before and have wisdom/experience.
    4. Not enough structure to facilitate accomplishing objectives; few benchmarks to determine whether the objectives have been accomplished.
    5. Too quick to jump to the next new thing without considering long-term impact of decisions.

    So, while I believe the 5 elements you enumerated are to some extent true, the ways in which older leaders think of younger leaders could virtually be flipped, at least in some cases. Best if both sides could sit at the table and learn from one another.

    Thanks Carey much for your consistent excellent work.

    • Tad Gilstrap on August 16, 2020 at 5:15 pm

      Younger/Older

      Now that I’m older I remember that I had all the same complaints when I was the young guy!

      • Andy Dean on August 17, 2020 at 12:51 pm

        And the younger generation today will have the same complaints in 30-40 years regarding the younger generation coming up. Lol!!!! A revolving door.

      • Andrew on August 24, 2020 at 11:31 am

        Now I am 57, i can remember making the same comments about my bosses when i was 37!

  6. Joseph on August 16, 2020 at 1:52 pm

    This was extremely helpful. It would be equally helpful to survey 900 older leaders and identify our top five complaints with young leaders

  7. John Finochio on August 16, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    This was an excellent post for examination and discussion and offers some good insights. I lead a team of people who are all less than half my age. I’ve learned to release them with accountability and place the emphasis on results not on methods or time in the office. Most decisions are made collaboratively because I hear good insights from them that often I do not think about and they approach things much differently than I do. I see that as a strength within the team. As an older leader on thing I try to get younger leaders to consider is that before they change something seek to understand why it was done that way in the first place. The same would be true for policies, approach, methods and programs. I absolutely love working with younger leaders and I find that I’m energized by them, however, while young leaders can be known for their passion, creativity, resourcefulness, brilliance, talent, energy, willingness to risk, flexibility and love for fun in their work it would be exceptionally rare for any of them to be known for their wisdom. The reason for that, as we all know is because wisdom is only gained by experience. When both sides see and understand why they need each other it can resolve much of the tension in the workplace.

  8. Dev on July 8, 2020 at 9:56 am

    I can relate to this, I work in an organisation with majority of people are older than 55. My boss herself has been working for last 45 years. At one hand I value their loyalty and persistence , on the other hand I strongly despise them for their highly inflexible attitude and extreme rigidity. In last 2 years, I have seen more young people come ,spend sometime and leave. Old people do not like it, but for a moment they never thought the reason behind it. And when highlighted, the obvious arrogant comment was ” we have so many people searching jobs.. not to worry”.
    While talking to people in my organisation and the in my geographical region i realized, one must be old than 40 to be a leader or even a manager ( most people in my company dont even know the difference).
    In my approach , I wait for them to get retired as I know most of them will be soon and then run the transformation washing off the old policy oriented inflexible dirt attitude that lacked creativity and overly retired attitude .
    Fun fact: Rigid and inflexible people are easily replaceable using robots.
    Request: Dear Old people.. even young minds have capability to lead.. I am sure top 10 biggest companies are not started by 100 year old man.

  9. Manny Luna on January 27, 2020 at 6:10 pm

    I can’t stop laughing at this post, for it only reminds me of how I used to be when I was a younger leader. The same complaint than the younger leaders of today, nothing has changed, it remains the same, but the funny part is that regardless of what we complain, things continue to move forward. In no time, we become the old guard, and the new set of young leaders will be complaining about the same things. LOL

    But as we gain Professional Maturity, we become more conscious of changing things without investigating them. Making decisions not based on facts, and without risks assessments, is way too risky, if we do not have all the facts. We know that if we make a mistake, it will have a more significant impact; thus, we must take caution about things, and this takes time. Taking unnecessary risk is no longer acceptable to us; therefore, we must proceed with lots of caution. This is perceived as being inflexible, but it is not, we are flexible, we don’t take anyone’s word that it will be fine, for we are ultimately the ones where all eyes focus on, if we make a mistake, the impact is much more significant, thus, once again, we proceed with caution.

    We do not know everything, especially when it comes to new technologies, we rely on facts, and not hearsay, thus, we can only fall back on past decisions. Their outcomes and this is where experience comes to place if, in the past, things were not as successful. Then, chances are this time they may not be again, for the core of what is being proposed is identical to what did not succeed in the past. Thus, we need more facts, and yes, this is seen as know it all, inflexible, and reluctant to change.

    Again, we are not slow, and yes we have rules, and those rules are the by-product of years of experience, and discoveries of process, or methodologies such as ITIL, which allows us to follow steps to ensure success and minimize mistakes, which tend to result in budget increases, project failures, and so many other things that are not acceptable at the Corporate level.

    So younger leaders, take a hard look at you for this is what you will also be saying within the next 15- 25 years, as you become more business savvy and gain more Professional Maturity. Best of luck to you all.

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  11. Manny on December 23, 2019 at 7:12 pm

    When I was in my 20s and 30s I was on top of the world, I had the latest tools, I had the answers to most thing, management was wrong, they were antiquated, and out of touch, I always fought to be heard, and that aggressiveness took me places where I expected to produce based on what I had stated it was the best way to do things (my way), all caused me to, all of the sudden starting to fight those that were in the place I was before, and the stress, frustration and trying to fix things, so people could not notice the mistakes that I had made. As the years went on, I no longer are at that place, I have grown up professionally. I now know what works and what does not, I am not quick to include new technology, process or whatever, I study it, do testing with that, see how it can benefit our culture, mission, and vision. Today I consider, the risks, cost, ect., I am no longer jump and try to make sudden changes, I make calculated changes, that are good for 1. The Company. 3. The Business Units, 4. Stakeholders and Users, 5. Business Analysts and Technology (IT).

    And now I heard the younger crowd to make complaints that I made when I was younger, so, I laugh, for today I know, that for the grace of God, there go I

  12. REUBEN on December 13, 2019 at 12:09 am

    Very true the generational gap conflicts needs solutions .
    The knowledge are giving is of much benefit
    Thank you.

  13. Michael McLendon on December 12, 2019 at 7:19 am

    As a boomer I deal with colleagues of younger generations daily. There is much to comment on in this survey, but I will just comment on the assertion about my generation not wanting to change. That is bunk! There is no generation more than the boomer generation that has seen it, led it, experienced it, and lived with the scare tissue of those experiences. My generation is what I call the in between generation. I well remember growing up in a rural environment with a party line telephone and mules in the barn. Wars, weathering economic downturns, the first desk top computer in the office, and now the IoT wired world. We are still here working and making a valuable contribution to our country and economy…and we will continue as long as we can. If my generation was not embracing of change then how are younger generations able to enjoy the life they live! What I do see is a lack of respect by some for my generation and a no desire to learn from those with scare tissue.

    • Valerie on December 12, 2019 at 9:39 am

      Michael, what was really interesting to read was how you said the Boomers are an “in-between” generation. As a Millennial, this is how a lot of us feel too. Growing up playing outside, having social interactions with friends, being hands-on and creative as kids, and growing with technology. We were around with Camcorders, house phones where you couldn’t be on the internet at the same time, flip phones eventually, and now to the current technological age. It was very cool to learn about your perspective. I’ve learned a lot from my Boomer parents. I have had disagreements with them as well with this article and “being stuck in their ways”. I’ve even heard my dad say “that’s just how it’s always been done”. It is a good tried and true method, but what if there was a different method that is more cost effective and timely? You never know til you try, and if it fails, you can say you tried and go back to what you used to do before!

      • Michael McLendon on September 3, 2020 at 9:54 am

        Valerie, thanks for taking the time to read and respond. I think of the differences with your generation is living with …”We were around with Camcorders, house phones where you couldn’t be on the internet at the same time, flip phones eventually, and now to the current technological age.” My generation went thru many hardships in order for your generation to call going to flip phones as a major challenge. I find that many Millennials have never endured hardship but rather they have been lived a life of abundance and are not equipped to deal with adversity and they are not resilient. Your generation would do well to learn form my generation about how to think and live. If u did you would know that what your dad likely meant was that life has taught him the best ways to deal with certain issues and problems after trying many things that failed. We are not stuck in our ways…we have scar tissue from life and you and your generation would do well to learn from us. What I fear is that your generation has not known what adversity and sacrifice means as parents want their children to have a better life. The downside is your generation tends not to be resilient when bad times occur, which they will, and have the toughness to deal with the battles of life which are not about having to deal with the coming and going of camcorders.

  14. Andrew on December 11, 2019 at 11:21 am

    An interesting add to this article might be an additional survey measuring success of those young leaders that leave to be founders. Are young leaders leaving to lead successful ventures? This puts much more ‘bite’ into the conclusions you reach here if that’s true. A counter point for your future article might be how much value is there in a slower approach to change.

  15. Dave on December 10, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    I can’t really comment on the whole story until the other side is published, but this post does make one think. Just off the top of my head, I’d say it sounds like the answer to many of the younger generations’ complaints as mentioned here is that we old ‘uns need to spend more time on WHY things need to be the way they are.

    For example, I own an accounting practice which includes tax preparation. Working in a coffeeshop is absolutely, 100% not an option. If there’s any chance at all of someone seeing a taxpayer’s information without permission then we are violating the US Tax Code and Treasury Department regulations. Working from home, on the other hand, could be acceptable once we get our servers set up properly for secure remote access (we haven’t bothered, since there’s no demand, but we’re not opposed).

    I’m looking forward to part 2 to see the other side of the story!

  16. Earl A. Jones on December 9, 2019 at 1:19 pm

    Great insight around this topic. Job effectiveness and outcomes come into play here as well for both age groups. If you’re getting a better outcome and the overall effectiveness of the team or organization is better off, give kudos to the individuals who are making this happen regardless of the age. Accountability has NO age.

  17. Dale Wilbanks on December 8, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    While I agree we need to be adaptive in the workplace, there are times when flexibility, especially in work schedules is not an option. When you are to be a visible presence, that is very seldom on your time. While the workplace is challenged to be adaptive, that is a two way street, and ultimately we all have someone we report to. You stated that the younger generation will just up and leave. That may work in the short term, but in the ling term they may find employment difficult. We all have to learn to adapt to work expectations.

  18. Clara Baptiste on December 5, 2019 at 11:01 am

    Very interesting read, but there are some young bosses who are extremely abusive to their underlings of any age.
    Whereas, there are a few older bosses resistant to change,one wonders if the problem is deeper than age. Keeping in mind that thirty years from now,everyone would be thirty years older, what would a twenty-something have to say then?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 6, 2019 at 7:44 pm

      Thanks Clara. You’re right, toxic is toxic and that spans all generations.

  19. Mark on December 3, 2019 at 9:40 am

    There is also outright lying about everything from continuing education opportunities to workload distribution to telling their boss that everything is wonderful. Then there is vindictiveness. Asking a question and even trying to do something helpful like streamlining a process are things that should be welcomed. These should not get one punished, but it frequently does. Punishment may be the older generation boss telling you that there will never be a promotion opportunity under him/her. It can go further into active career harm. These are the secular examples but churches aren’t too much different. Asking a question as a young person can result in the leader going to one’s parents to get them punished for not knowing their proper place. Asking a question at the age of Gen X can get one forever excluded from leadership.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 4, 2019 at 4:11 pm

      Sounds like you’ve been hurt badly and had some toxic work experiences Mark. I’m so sorry!

  20. Dawn on December 2, 2019 at 8:55 pm

    I personally don’t think intergenerational conflict has to be inevitable in the workplace. Just because something is common does not mean that one has to accept it as inevitable. I have worked on both strongly and poorly functioning intergenerational teams. Strong teams learn how to collectively value the contributions of all members, negotiate, and communicate respectfully and effectively. This is a skill set, and it comes more naturally to some than others, but like any skill set, it can be learned by anyone who is willing to work on it. While there are real differences in what generations expect and how they communicate in the workplace (which is why asking the question- “what I can do better” is so important) this is also true of diversity in other dimensions. As a millennial, I have learned/been learning how to honestly communicate my concerns/ideas/values in a forthright, authentic way while also listening, acknowledging and respecting the experience and perspective of others… it is rare for me to meet someone (gen-z, millennial, gen-xer or boomer) who doesn’t respond to that in a positive way. I am in my early 30s, and I am already finding myself as a “go between” in my workplace between individuals and generations. As I get older, my goal is to never stop being that person, and I personally think that it is possible.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 2, 2019 at 11:09 pm

      Hey Dawn,

      I agree. That is actually my hope with my course The High Impact Workplace that is releasing this week. To help people build teams where multiple generations thrive.

      Cheering for you,

      Carey

    • Mark on December 3, 2019 at 9:44 am

      It is always the powerful who have to decide if they want to permit the lower rank, younger, powerless to speak and then decide if they want to listen to what is said or immediately disregard it and berate the person for having said it. The one who pays the piper calls the tune.

  21. Deb Lindgren on December 2, 2019 at 8:12 pm

    So true!
    Research shows (all) leaders rate themselves as a better leader than they actually are. This is a travesty in the church, especially when power and tradition trump humility and servanthood.
    Want to know if you’re REALLY an authentic leader that staff want to follow? Do a 365 anonymous survey. Make sure it’s confidential and anonymous and you will at least be one step closer to relevance, trustworthiness, and the truth!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 4, 2019 at 4:12 pm

      That’s excellent advice. And yes, aren’t we all above average?

  22. Doug Mund on December 2, 2019 at 3:10 pm

    This has all happened before and will all happen again. It is normal to think it’s different now, but most likely not. In a general sense, in 25-30 years these young leaders will be on the other side. Just like the older leaders were 25-30 years ago. The younger and the older will always live in tension and actually it is a good thing. We need each other. There is a reason overseers were also called Elders (it is not just a title but also a description) and that we should not despise youth.

  23. Aaron B. on December 2, 2019 at 2:14 pm

    I see a lot of comments about how this has always been the case, where leaders always grow old(er) and become set in their ways and younger ones grow frustrated by this. However, I think what is unique about the current situation in the workplace is, at least statistically speaking, there is a much lower population in the middle generation i.e. “Gen-X”. This seems to accelerate the frustration between management and the younger inexperienced Millennials and upcoming Gen-Z. Why? It seems like the jump from Boomers to Millennials is too great without solid Gen-Xers “translating” between the “old” and “new” ways of thinking. I’m a 27-year-old Millenial, Assoc. Pastor with two senior leadership above me, one Gen-X and one Boomer. I have a hard time going directly to the Boomer to talk things through, as it really does seem everything gets lost in translation. I don’t blame them for it, but it is extremely helpful to use my Gen-X colleague as such, a translator, that understands a bit more of the nuances between our ways of seeing things. Don’t get me wrong… we can all drive each other nuts sometimes and also be a great encouragement to one another, but I do think it’s very valuable to every generation to make intentional efforts to understand why, and how every generation (and person) comes to the conclusions that they do and go from there.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 2, 2019 at 11:12 pm

      Love this, Aaron.

      Carey

    • Regina on December 3, 2019 at 11:52 am

      I completely agree. I’m on the edge of GenX/Millenial (sort of a lost micro generation!), and I feel like a translator all. the. time. I think a lot of the miscommunication stems from a real lack of imagination about the perspective of others: that what others want out of church might be different than what you yourself wanted; that the the most important aspect of church for you might not be the most important aspect for someone else; that the a beloved program that works super well for one generation of people, might not be working that well for the next generation down the line, and so we may need to come up with something different for them maybe (gasp!) ask that generation of folks what they would like to see, rather than trying to compel them to engage in what we already have! . . . and that all of this is OKAY. Maybe even healthy and normal! And how the church has grown and changed for 2,000 years!

      • Aaron on December 3, 2019 at 12:01 pm

        Absolutely, when the answer to the why is “this is what we’ve always done” things need to be reevaluated. At that point it’s hard to get the lagerds and late adopters on board. The vision and reason behind everything needs to be understood and tweaked as time goes on, then change is constant and growing pains are less noticeable.

    • Tim Milburn on December 10, 2019 at 11:32 am

      This is a huge insight and opportunity. I am finding (as a Gen Xer) that I stand in the gap on a lot of these types of conversations. I like the idea of being a translator. Great description. And I love being a Gen Xer, because it sounds cooler than all of the other generational names!

      • Aaron Bartlett on December 10, 2019 at 12:37 pm

        Thanks Tim! I am a little jealous, it’s a great name!

  24. Holland L Webb on December 2, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    I’m reminded of that episode of The Office when Jim (a young man) is promoted to co-regional manager with Michael (an older man). Jim pointedly tells Michael what he thinks is wrong with the office and how to fix it. As the viewer, you likely agree with him. So Michael gives Jim a shot at doing things his way. It turns out to be an even bigger disaster than Michael’s way. It’s one of the few episodes of The Office where the Michael character shows unexpected managerial competence.

    I mention that episode because it illustrates some of the issues mentioned above. Yes, younger leaders can see a lot of problems with older ones. But they need to realize WHY mature leaders hold the views they do. Sometimes, it’s because they’re stodgy sticks in the mud. Often, it’s because they’ve tried your way and they realize it has more flaws than you might see.

  25. Chuck on December 2, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    Humorous Side Comment: Every single time I scroll by where you mention the survey you took, my brain for an instant sees I SURVIVED over 900 leaders…. ironic.

  26. James I Feel God Brown on December 2, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    Ok, I hear you. But this sounds like the same reaction EVERY GENERATION has had about the previous one. I know my generation felt this way about the WWII generation and it birthed the hippies etc.

    I am hard pressed to see the difference

    In Him,
    JMb <

  27. Josh on December 2, 2019 at 11:33 am

    Thanks for this post, Carey. I can’t wait for the flip-side post! I find myself kind of in the middle of this tension being a Gen-Xer, but just barely at 40 yrs old, and holding a position that is in middle-leadership: leading mostly the younger generation while reporting to the older Gen-X and Boomers in our organization. The tension comes when I think my supervisors are unwilling to change or overlook good ideas, then am asked to lead my teams to carry out the things that even I think are outdated, all while getting the same kind of feedback from the younger team members I lead who think my ideas are outdated or I’m inflexible. A real tug-of-war happens in this scenario and makes it difficult to feel like any real progress is ever made. Many times, I agree with my younger teams and yet feel like my hands are tied in trying to effect change for their sake because of the brick walls that I run into taking it up the food chain.

    Wondering how many others in my type of situation are feeling the same tensions? Thanks for providing a place for us to discuss this and learn from each other!

    • Chuck on December 2, 2019 at 11:50 am

      Josh

      I was in academia for over 20 years and definitely know where you are coming from. I actually geared some of my research and authoring efforts toward newer teaching methods and presented the stuff at conferences packed with the Old Guard. I got through to some, not to others. Mixed results I’d say. Willing to discuss away from this forum if you like. Those experiences drove me toward the intergenerational approach I’ve come to favor

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 4, 2019 at 4:24 pm

      Josh…that’s such a good point. That has a short shelf-life. Implementing ideas you don’t agree with or didn’t help shape is a tough one.

  28. Ryan on December 2, 2019 at 10:41 am

    I read all of the complaints from Millennials and GenZ and they all seem valid. I’ve heard many of them myself.

    The thing I see though is if you were to have given this same survey to the older leader 20 years ago, their answers would have been exactly the same.

    I know my answers would have been the same.

    And my guess would be if you had done the survey to the younger leaders 20 years before that, it would have also been the same.

    There is a level of comfort and “safeness” that comes with doing something a certain way because you know it works.

    I would encourage other leaders to not be afraid of trying new things and failing. I once worked for an older leader that fit the descriptions here and asked I him what his view on trying something new and failing was. He was taken back and surprised. He told me that if I had planned well enough then it should never fail.

    Give your staff the backing to succeed and the permission to fail.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 2, 2019 at 11:01 am

      Hey Ryan,

      Thanks for your post. I think you’re totally correct…older leaders have always struggled with younger leaders and vice versa. It’s true in every generation.

      In respect to other comments here though, the fact that the struggles are predictable or eternal still mean they’re valid and real.

      What I struggle with is that organizations lose great people every day because issues like this go unaddressed.

      Thanks for raising that and great advice to experiment and allow failure. I hear you!

      • Ryan on December 2, 2019 at 11:24 am

        I totally agree they should be addressed and too often they seem to be ignored. I loved the blog and hope we can all raise up leaders who will not become “set in their ways” as in past generations.

    • Chuck on December 2, 2019 at 11:02 am

      Love this response too. I ask rhetorically, and respectfully, totally in support of Ryan’s testimony: since when are we in ministry entitled to being “safe” or “in control”?? I believe Ryan is correct—that is exactly what we want when we try something new. We don’t like being wrong or failing. (Pssst. Pride….)

      To show my age, what totally busted my chops on this subject came from a decision I had to make in graduate school. I was knocked to the floor by a then current song by Petra (see? I’m old), called “Beyond Belief”. Google the lyrics. There’s a line: “Waters never part until our feet get wet!” The author is citing Moses experience when it was time for the Red Sea to part. Y’all know it.

      This is the need my friend Ryan I think is calling for. Get your feet wet and watch the waters part!

  29. Steve Rain on December 2, 2019 at 9:05 am

    Have been in senior management over 25 years. Was very young when I started (late 40’s now). While I’ll certainly concede that older leaders can be all of those things and more, it seems as though the only ones prompted to change are “older leaders”. Young leaders think they are “active listeners” but really only want a sounding board and to have their ideas fully endorsed. They also tend to vacillate on tougher decisions, but don’t like anyone else making it. It’s very frustrating dealing with a “revolutionary mind” when actually it’s just an inability to focus, be patient, make the tough decisions and stand by those decisions. Ultimately, young leaders will be old leaders in due time and will likely have the same said about them. I guess it’s inevitable.

    • Chuck on December 2, 2019 at 9:34 am

      I like this post. It testifies directly to why I believe so strongly that intergenerational leadership and culture should be encouraged and nurtured from the start. (I personally dislike age and gender based approaches in a number of ministry areas for this reason but that’s me…shocker). Each age group has a list of reasons why they can’t or don’t or wont work with a different one. Fostering intergenerational ministry, or at least offering it as one option, I pray, will cut down on this, and get generations talking to one another. It can work and does.

      Tractor beams. Not shields.

    • Brian Sauter on December 2, 2019 at 10:38 am

      Steve I love your what you said. I am 32 year old young leader and more of a visionary type. My saying is how do I make something Effective, Efficient, and Simple. But there is a root of cynicism in my heart all the time. I feel that is at the heart of a lot of young leaders like myself. I am would rather push, then do the internal hardworking inside to become a patient and above all, respectful of the generations before me. Now, I am still a pusher that is part of my wiring. But when I get frustrated I have to ask, why am I so mad about this? What I have found it is deeply rooted insecurity of myself and if I am so bold to say my generation. We are used to instant change and meeting demand quickly. We have to disengage that mentality when we are working and talking to people. otherwise we won’t make it till we are 40 or so in the work place. I know the hardest thing for me now is just enjoying when I am not working. As a new dad this came all to real to me. I would rather go do the dishes or clean something than play with my son. I hated that about myself and I wanted to know why. The reason is because my mind was always on instant gratification I play with my son and yes he smiles, but then he cries and it is no longer gratifying.ha. But I do the dishes and I have a clean sink. Which speaks to your comment about we want to make decisions, but won’t make the hard ones. We won’t make the hard ones, because it’s not gratifying at that time to do so. It may be at the end, but our wiring is so focused on the right now. As you manager my gen, think about these things and have them check there heart, because there is a big difference with someone who has a cynical heart and a cynical mind. Cynical heart is full of passion and anger, cyclical mind is full of helpful advice and grace. Sorry for the rant., but steve you get me bro

      • Tim Milburn on December 10, 2019 at 11:38 am

        Brian: Powerful self-awareness in your post. That’s a great starting point for moving forward and moving together.
        -tim

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 2, 2019 at 11:02 am

      Steve. I think that’s somewhat true, but young leaders also have their share of challenges. I would think twice about playing the inevitability card though. Frustrated young leaders won’t stick around long.

      • Will Lyon on August 16, 2020 at 9:28 am

        Not surprising for a generation where everyone gets a trophy for trying. In a society where we make as annual incomes four and five times greater than many in other countries, particularly in Asia, but are not that much smarter or efficient. Trying isn’t enough, we must be better, faster, more fruitful to continue as we are.

        Instead too often what we hear is, I want it all, I want it now, and I don’t want to work to hard for it… yes, we need to balance life, but that is no excuse for minimalism. Leadership is bringing people up to the “next” level, to grow. Observe young leaders, they too often are either ruthless because they are used to getting almost anything they want (they had fewer brothers and sisters), or are collaborative to the point of expecting someone else will do there job. They have not been tested, and when they are, their first response is to complain (you see it in the comments above).
        Observe the current culture of “cancellation”. When was the last time you saw a young leader challenge the Cancel Culture? Or on social media go against the grain – they don’t because they are fearful. Their behavior strongly suggests they will trade their values for safety, and that is the death knell for authentic leadership.

  30. Sherri on December 2, 2019 at 7:50 am

    I’m an older generation (58 years YOUNG) and love and adore the younger generations. I get to partner and mentor some really great “kids”. What helps make it a partnership is mutual respect and trust. I respect their ability to always think outside the box–mostly because they’ve never operated inside the box 😉 all while trusting that their respect for me makes them hungry to learn about the old ways. I trust a younger generation to do the best and right thing. I also operate out of the unwritten beatitude . . . “Blessed are the flexible for they will not be bent out of shape.” The very moment I feel bent out of shape about an idea or the potential for significant change, I KNOW I’m being inflexible. Blessings, Carey, on this critical ministry! You’re doing a fabulous job 🙌🙌🙌

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 2, 2019 at 11:03 am

      That’s a great test Sherri! Thanks for the encouragement.

  31. Chuck on December 2, 2019 at 7:29 am

    As someone only a short way inside the older leader category (Early 50s) id day this is pretty spot on with one caveat. All 5 of these points can be distilled down to the first point. Unwilling to change. In my day we called that being stubborn. The root of this is simple: Pride. Any age group can identify with that universal term as it outdated all of us. As I see it, the only generational difference in how pride manifests is CULTURE. Older generations didn’t challenge leaders because of how they perceive respect. Younger generations are more sensitive to issues that older generations wrote off. The list of examples goes on and on. And it SCREAMS of needing 1) intergenerational and 2) multicultural leaders to step up.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 2, 2019 at 11:04 am

      It really does all spring out of point#1. Thanks Chuck.

      Open wins at the end of the day.

  32. Gregg Doyle on December 1, 2019 at 6:21 pm

    Jesus was describing the same thing with the story of old and new wine. In Matthew 9:16-17, Jesus warns his disciples of what happens when a person’s view of reality is inflexible. Jesus repeatedly calls us to metanoia (repent) change our thinking. Paul, in Romans 12:2, wrote, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In the recent podcast with Mr. MacDonald, he said: “My own feeling is that in the next twenty-five years the church is going to have to reframe its way of doing business lest it totally fail people who need fresh starts and an infusion of grace.”

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