For some time I have wondered whether there is any link between someone’s generation (i.e. when they were born) and their preference for any particular style of leadership.
It is generally conceded that there are four main leadership styles; autocratic, democratic, laissez-faire and a combination of the first three.
It’s important to note that individual preferences for leadership styles can vary widely within any generation, and it’s risky to make broad generalisations.
However, various studies that I have reseached and personal observations have pointed out certain generational trends regarding leadership preferences. Here’s a brief overview based on the most well-known generations:
- Traditionalists (born ~1927-1945):
- Tendencies: Grew up in a hierarchical time and may be more accustomed to and comfortable with autocratic or top-down leadership styles. They value respect for authority and clear chain of command.
- Baby Boomers (born ~1946-1964):
- Tendencies: Often appreciate a blend of autocratic and democratic styles. They value loyalty, face-to-face communication, and might appreciate being consulted in decisions, but they also respect a clear authority figure.
- Generation X (born ~1965-1980):
- Tendencies: Lean more towards democratic and laissez-faire styles. They value a balance between autonomy and structure, preferring leaders who give them freedom but are available for guidance when necessary. They appreciate feedback and clear communication.
- Millennials (Generation Y, born ~1981-1996):
- Tendencies: Often favor democratic leadership. They value collaboration, transparency, and inclusivity. Millennials typically appreciate leaders who solicit their opinions, involve them in decision-making processes, and offer regular feedback. They also value leaders who show a genuine interest in their professional growth and personal well-being.
- Generation Z (born ~1997-2012):
- Tendencies: While it’s still early to make definitive statements about Gen Z’s workplace leadership preferences, early indications suggest they appreciate democratic styles and place a premium on leaders who are authentic, socially responsible, and value-driven. Like millennials, they value feedback, but they also crave independence, suggesting they might appreciate some aspects of laissez-faire leadership, provided it’s paired with guidance and mentorship.
Don’t forget effective leadership often requires understanding the unique preferences, motivations, and experiences of individual team members rather than relying solely on generational stereotypes.