Part 2 - The genius of the generation gap


What the Suits can learn from the Sneakers.

Following on Part 1 of this article, part two explores the leadership lessons that can be learnt through reverse mentorship. 

Top tips to integrate the Suits and the Sneakers

There could initially be some resistance from older leaders to collaborate with younger employees, so it’s worth noting that there are a number of things that millennial leaders can teach their senior counterparts.

Wayne Meisel, business manager at SAP Africa, said, “The classic picture of the CEO as a grey, suit-and-tie wearing executive has been replaced by a dynamic sneakers-and-jeans sporting young leader with a more casual approach to office attire,” he says.

“These Suits most definitely have the experience and the business maturity on their side, however, the so-called Sneakers - the younger, less traditional, more purpose-driven and digitally-native - are teaching the older Suits new ways of work and rewriting classic notions of success in the process,” he added.

Wayne had some advice for marrying experience and business maturity (the Suits) with the more purpose driven and digitally native (the Sneakers).

Less bullet points, more stories

“Remember that great slide the CEO showed that perfectly summed up the company strategy in a few bullet points? No one does. Modern leaders know that to inspire and motivate their teams, they need to communicate their strategy in a memorable way with a strong focus on storytelling,” said Wayne.

Create compelling and inspirational stories that can keep a team motivated, “Use fun elements to make it more memorable. Younger workers expect more than just working for a salary: they want to have fun doing it too,” he explained.

Make purpose your power

Purpose has become a lot more of a driver for an employee’s personal and professional buy-in.

Leaders therefore need to focus on purpose to inspire younger leaders. “They know that speaking about buying a new tool is not exciting or motivating: instead, they speak about the potential of how that tool can change the world. Companies with a clear purpose also find it easier to attract talented candidates who align with that purpose,” he explained.

Vary viewpoints

Successful modern leaders should prioritise building diverse teams and cultivating a culture that celebrates diversity. “Younger workers understand the value of listening to, considering and taking on board a diversity of views from a broad spectrum of different personality types and backgrounds,” he said.

Be relatable

Being accessible and engaging goes a long way. “Younger workers are shaping the companies of tomorrow by exploring new ideas and trying new solutions to old and emerging challenges. To inspire this new generation of professionals shaping the business world, leaders need to use language and examples that are relatable,” Wayne said.

Companies can also close the generation gap by getting Gen Z or Millennial input at board meetings or sessions at an executive level and communicate leadership decisions in a relatable way.

Organisations that build diverse teams foster growth opportunities for Suits and Sneakers alike.

“There is no doubt that this younger generation of purposeful and passionate leaders brings value to the workplace. Do they have all the answers? Absolutely not. Some of the most effective business strategies are still driven by the Suits who possess the gift of experience,” he said.

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