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COMMENTARY: How our leaders can bridge the generation gap

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Zebulon Beck
  • 75th Air Base Wing

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- As leaders, many of you have or will deal with the challenges of working with younger folks that come from a different generation than you did.

This is not unique; you were different than the generation before you and so on. Still, the struggle is real and the need to be educated on how to navigate this challenge is real.

This generation faces challenges and opportunities that previous generations did not. I am going to share the good and the bad of it.

First the good.

This generation shows an incredible ability to respect and work with each other – regardless of race, religion, or gender – to a level that has possibly not existed in history. This allows them to tap into each other’s unique abilities and see each other as equals, empowering them to achieve large scale teamwork that will enable them to solve major future challenges.

This generation is incredibly information-savvy and knows how to search, find, and implement solutions at break neck speed. This generation also tends to see a bigger world than previous generations and seeks to find common ground among all people that can bring world harmony and peace.

Now their challenges.

First, many young Americans don’t recognize or appreciate the major achievements of the past. They inherited the amazing infrastructure they benefit from and often see it as a relic of the past industrial age and, therefore, don’t value the need to maintain or expand it. This has and will likely continue to create major roadblocks to future growth and capabilities.

They have inherited incredible wealth and benefits not known to earlier generations. This may cause them to see their world as fulfilled resulting in a lack of excitement for the need to explore and create.

This also brings depression and anxiety as they try and find their purpose and achievement. With extra time on their hands, they tend to judge the past very critically, looking down on historical achievements and historical figures, even tearing down their statues or stripping their names from community buildings if they can find even one or two faults with them.

Finally, the addiction to technology and social media has prevented them from learning how to have and achieve deep personal relationships. Instead, they live their lives through a digital filter where they only show their best accomplishments, their best edited photos, and their amazing lives, while deleting with the press of a button their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. This causes them to look at and envy each other, feeling as though everyone is happy and successful, but them.

So, how do you lead and mentor this generation?

First, capitalize on their amazing talents. Challenge them to solve hard problems. Don’t do it for them. They can probably do it faster and better than you can even if they do it differently than you are used to.

Help them see how their contributions are vital to mission success. This may require spending valuable, but critical time painting that picture for them.

Help them to appreciate the achievements of the past and the need to continue building up on them. The age of creation and exploration is not over. There are new frontiers to be conquered.

Encourage more of them to put down technology and get their hands dirty. Teach them to make things again, to build things and to experiment, fail, and try again.

Share with them that it’s okay to disagree and still be friends. There is no need to be angry with or despise someone you totally disagree with.

Help them to realize that you, they, historical figures of the past and those who will be great in the future were not, are not, and will not be perfect and that it’s okay to admire someone for a great accomplishment even if they are not perfect in every area of their life.

Finally, do your best to create environments that require person-to-person communication. Model this by putting down social media and asking deeper more personal questions that require them to be more transparent and real even if that is uncomfortable for them.

Previous generations learned to work with and help you. Now it’s your turn.