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With many people staying longer in work either because they like what they’re doing and can’t see any point in retiring, or because they haven’t yet accrued the years to qualify for a big enough pension, managers of today often find themselves leading cross-generational teams and may wonder to themselves whether this calls for different approaches in order to get the best out of people.

Young managers may feel insecure, faced with reports who are old enough to be their parents. They may be easily triggered into defensive reactions and struggle to gain authority. Older managers may feel out of touch with the culture of the millennials and potentially included to judge their values and ways of working in a negative way.

Yet most people in the workplace have very similar expectations of what makes for good management and similar hopes in relation to a positive working environment, according to recent research by the Human Capital Institute and the International Coach Federation (ICF)[1].

Common expectations and hopes
In a study of 670 Human Resources, Learning and Development and Talent Management professionals, managers and individual employees across the generations, the authors found that there was remarkable similarity in many areas.

Most people, whatever their age, wanted:
Opportunities for development, career advancement and flexibility at work.
– The organisation to show corporate social responsibility
– Security in terms of length of tenure
– Quality work to be recognised, support from their managers and opportunities to share feedback with decision makers.

And whatever their age, a significant percentage thought that the most important competencies for first time managers were to do with people, relationships and self-awareness. Top of the list: –

– Coaching and developing others
Engaging and inspiring others
– Having emotional intelligence

Implications for the development of managers
So, what if you are a first-time manager who’s stepped up a level primarily because of technical expertise? There’s a big bit of learning to do about working with people, who are rarely as predictable as technical processes!

And what if you’re an experienced manager used to command and control, the automatic respect given to those higher up the pecking chain? There’s learning about listening and empowering your team to both make decisions and implement them with the appropriate degree of support.

Some of the learning relates to self-awareness, alongside recognising other people’s preferred styles and ways to adjust when working with difference – and some of it is to do with developing coaching skills so that you can adopt a coaching approach in your line management.

Developing self-awareness and knowledge about how we impact on others and then using this information to make conscious choices, is often called Emotional Intelligence[2]. Models which illustrate this are the Johari window, originally described by Hanson in 1973[3], and the much more recent “Who/How Cone”[4]. We move from understanding “Who I am” to “How I understand myself” to “How I behave” to “What others see” to “Impact on Outcomes”. The understanding we gain from feedback and reflection puts us at a point of choice in how we relate in the future.

Feedback and support from a coach while on the learning journey, which may involve times of discomfort as our self-understanding changes, can be enabling.

Many organisations now include a foundation in coaching skills in their management and leadership development courses. There are skills in listening and asking open-ended powerful questions to be learnt – which involve pedalling down advice and direction giving and ramping up supporting the person you are working with to find the solution for themselves.  

And of course, once you have learnt the skills, you can choose whether to use them or not, given the situation and the people you are working with.

Sarah Gornall, President UK ICF Chapter – International Coach Federation

[1] Filipkowski J, Ruth M, Heverin A (2017) Building a Coaching Culture with Millenial Leaders: HCI and ICF, available from www.coachfederation.org/research  

[2] Goleman, D (1995) Emotional Intelligence. New York. Bantam Books

[3] Hanson, P. (1973) ‘The Johari Window: A model for soliciting and giving feedback’ in Jones, J and Pfeiffer, J.W. (Eds) 1973) The 1973 Annual Handbook for Facilitators. San Diego, CA: Pfeiffer & Company

[4] Described in Bird, J. and Gornall, S (2019) “How to Work with People… and Enjoy It!” Abingdon: Routledge

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