Authentic Leadership Across Four Generations

Bennett Napier, CAE,

Partners in Association Management

CSAE Annual Conference

Crested Butte, CO

June 27, 2017


Bennett Napier

There are currently four generations in the workplace (soon to be 5).  Historical standards of “top-down communication” no longer work in this new business world. Learn how authentic leadership can engage your employees so that ownership and idea creation can occur at all levels of your organization – and why it matters.

Bennett Napier (@BennettNapier) began with a Venn diagram that illustrated authentic leadership as the intersection between your psychological self (self-awareness and self-regulation) and your philosophical self (moral virtues and moral actions). He then went on to describe six management styles and how different generations perceive various aspects of the workplace based, in part, on Haydn Shaw‘s popular analysis, Sticking Points. He depicted the six styles of management in the two slides below.

Management Styles


Management Styles (cont.)


After reviewing these different types and when to use each, Bennett discussed how each of the four generations (Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials) currently in the workforce perceive communication, decision-making, dress code, feedback, loyalty, training and work ethic. As for the fifth generation, Generation Z, little data exists. According to Wikipedia “There are no precise dates for when this cohort starts or ends; demographers and researchers typically use starting birth years ranging from the mid-1990s to early 2000s, and as of yet there is little consensus about ending birth years.”

Cross-Generation Communication


Regarding communication, the pace of technology radically affects how each generation perceives formal and informal messages. The office environment has gradually left memos and telephones in favor of email, texting and posting.

Cross-Generational Decision-Making


Similarly, decision-making has gone through an evolution and is less top down so that more employees typically feel empowered in an organization. Dress, too, had evolved and become less formal. Since views can be widespread, Bennett recommends picking small battles for easy wins in the beginning and build consensus from there.

Regarding feedback, performance reviews have gone from a negative, formal, annual experience to a more positive, less formal and more frequent experience. Bennett adds that, like any other data, Millennials expect to be able to access the latest information easily, not unlike an onscreen video-game score. While annual performance reviews are still advisable, they are much less top-down, and should be supplemented by daily feedback.

Concepts of loyalty and training have changed, too, because few expect long-term employment in one position and training is considered increasingly important as the pace of change increases. Contrary to the stereotype of Millennials simply quitting a job unpredictably, these younger employees, Bennett states, are, in fact, more likely to remain in an organization they like as long as they can switch jobs to develop new skill sets. While Traditionalists view training as on job “in the school of hard knocks” Boomers view training as a reward, Gen Xers view training as security and Millennials view training as a employer requirement.

The time period when work gets done has changed as well, although Bennett points out, it seems no less dedicated. Traditionalists work 9am-5pm and stay late with overtime; Baby Boomers work 8am-6pm and take work home; Gen Xers try to get it all done at work and take it home if necessary, and Millennials view the world as being 24×7, so can leave at 5 but will log in at night.

With these points in mind, Bennett has some Do’s and Don’ts for managing across generations:


  • Experiment with mixed-aged teams and reverse mentoring programs
  • Conduct regular surveys to get a pulse on employee needs and demographics
  • Foster collaboration and transparency
  • Keep employees engaged
  • Develop incentive plans that reflect where employees are in their lives



  • Reinforce generational stereotypes
  • Act like a top-down manager
  • Assume you know how to motivate employees who are older or younger
  • Apply a blanket communication policy


Bennett closed by describing a void of trust in the workplace in which, according to a 2014 American Psychological Association survey, a full quarter of employees do not trust their employer.  Transparency is, therefore, a key element of authentic leadership. According to Harvard Business Review‘s and The New York Times‘ 2013 survey, “Employees who say they have more supportive supervisors are 1.3 times as likely to stay with the organization and are 67 percent more engaged,” and Bennett believes that transparency is one of the best ways to support your employees. Bennett recommends that this transparency include finances, especially considering associations’ 990 IRS Forms (Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax) and compensation data are publicly available through GuideStar, GlassDoor and other sources.

Financial transparency, though, must go hand-in-hand with financial education, Bennett adds, so that employees can correctly interpret financial data and prevent false assumptions as to why a smaller raise might seem incongruent with consistently positive performance feedback. Bennett also overcomes the objection that “our people wouldn’t care” with the reality that employees care about job sustainability and compensation, which the organization’s finances directly impact.

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