Global Leadership: What Cultural and Generational Gaps Mean for Leaders

In boardrooms across the globe, a silent struggle is taking place, spanning both culture and industry: The generation gap.

When you work in a field like eLearning, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to an issue that affects almost every aspect of your job. The generation gap dictates how we structure eLearning modules, user design, and even our delivery methods. When working with clients and corporations, we have to be extremely cognizant of the way our eLearning will be received, based on factors like age, location, and even culture.

But the global generation gap might not be as wide as some think, according the results of a study completed by Nelson Cohen Consulting. After surveying 1,312 individuals on the traits they most admire in a leader, the findings paint a clearer picture how each different generation (and culture) views leadership. Understanding how each culture and generation values leadership traits proves that we might not be so different after all.

Global Millennials Vs. Baby Boomers

I find that the media loves to pit millennials against the other generations. Baby boomers call them unpredictable, while Gen Xers might say millennials are too ambitious. But for their part, millennials share some fairly strong opinions about what it means to be a great leader. This can create common grounds upon which all generations can interact with each other at work.

All three generations–millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers–listed “inspiring” as one of the most admirable leadership traits, proving that while their technique might be different, the motivation among generations is pretty similar. All want their leaders to inspire and ignite them as motivation to be and do better.

But there’s a split between other traits. Millennials, for instance, put higher stock in ambition and determination, while Gen Xers prefer imagination. Baby boomers? They want a leader who is courageous. At the same time, both baby boomers and Gen Xers agreed that honesty and competency were admirable–two traits that were much lower on the millennials’ list.

Surprisingly, cultural differences hardly widened the gap at all. When asked which leadership traits would be the most important for the future, the answers were the same across North American, European, Asian Pacific, South American, Middle Eastern, and African cultures: Competence, forward-thinking, inspiration, and intelligence.

The Shrinking Gap

When battle lines are drawn between generations and cultures, it only hurts business. Instead of drawing out the benefit in generational differences, some prefer to use those differences as ammunition at work. But the numbers don’t lie: The generation gap is a lot smaller than you’d think. They might dress, act, and communication differently, but it doesn’t change the fact that there are crucial similarities across generations and cultures.

Business is becoming more–not less–inclusive over time, thanks to advancement in technology and communication. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to utilize the new boundaries to foster something that transcends age and location.