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Balancing Generations in Leadership

Bridging the Age Gap
How can AEs overcome multigenerational issues and create synergy among four generations of members?

A Web site redesign that includes search options, weather forecasting, and financial news might sound like a completely logical idea . . . if you were born after 1964. For many people born before that time, a few simple pull-down menus sound preferable. Jim Haisler, a Gen Xer and association executive of the McHenry County Association of Realtors®, Ill., learned this the hard way when his initial vision of a Web site redesign was met with “friction” by older committee members.

After attending a leadership seminar on multigenerational issues, Haisler realized the source of that friction—two generations approaching a problem differently. Once he understood this, he was able to help the committee devise a hybrid Web site that met everyone’s needs.

From disagreements on how to communicate with the membership to events that don’t serve all member needs, the lack of synergy between the four generations that define today’s volunteer board is causing a disconnect that must be addressed.

Back to Class
Association executives must find ways to bring together the Silent Generation (born between 1925 and 1945), which demands respect; Boomers (1946-1964), who want to be in control; Generation X (1965-1980), which prefers its independence; and the Millennials or Generation Y (1981-2000)—who are comfortable doing many things simultaneously.

Haisler suggests you begin with education. “It’s important to tailor our programs the way our users would like to use them and receive them. Some of our members resist e-mail. Xers love it. But should we also be sending information in the mail?” he asks, pointing out the concerns an AE faces when confronted with such diverse needs.

Each generation of volunteers brings a unique perspective to the discussion. If these perspectives are not understood, it can thwart management’s attempts to lead. The veterans want to do things the way they’ve always been done. Gen Xers think they have a better idea. And the youngest—and fastest growing—generation seems to question everyone else’s decisions.

“It really is a diversity issue,” says Patti Fralix of the Fralix Group, a leadership excellence firm based in Raleigh, N.C. “Generational and personality differences have the potential to create the most negative conflict in any organization,” she says.
Misunderstandings and misperceptions about how each generation operates has created such widespread conflict that the National Association of Realtors® AE Committee Chair, Walt Baczkowski, rce, Metropolitan Consolidated Association of Realtors®, Mich., plans to form a workgroup to address the issue. Leadership education sessions on the topic also are scheduled for the upcoming Association Executives Institute in San Diego.
Baczkowski says the workgroup will discuss current AE practices and how AEs might become better equipped to handle what can be best described as a changing of the guard. “Are we capable of serving our members? Sometimes not,” he says.

Change Is Good, or So They Say
Sometimes the problems arise when the new—and younger—guy comes along and wants to change things. That’s what happened when Matt Maire, cae, Greater Kalamazoo Association of Realtors®, Mich., replaced his predecessor, who had served the association for the previous 38 years.

“That guy was one of the inner circle, and here I was, 29 years old, an Xer, and my challenge was: ‘How am I going to lead this group of 40- to 60-year-olds?’ Here it is, six and a half years later, and they tell me they were surprised I made it through such a radical transformation,” Maire reflects.

Because generational trends are bringing more and more young people into the industry, one of Maire’s first changes involved modifying the volunteer membership application to encourage participation based on interests, not experience. Not only has it helped transform a sedentary atmosphere into a more active one, it’s also brought in new leadership from all age groups, and led to the melding of old and new in all program areas.

“Xers don’t have the patience that Boomers have,” says Maire, whose elder members have resisted a new MLS system, new forms, and the automated key box. “We have great ideas and we want to execute them, not just stick with the status quo. But we needed to take some risks,” he says, including firing some staff members who couldn’t buy into the changes.

Maire’s strategic plan now includes developing a curriculum that will help members understand multigenerational issues, not only for the sake of Realtor®-to-Realtor® relationships but also Realtor®-to-consumer relationships.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Where Maire’s association failed to attract Gen Xers by creating a Young Realtors® Group (members didn’t have time to attend meetings), Diane Ruggiero, rce, cae, Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors®, Mo., tried a different tactic.

Ruggiero developed a Speed Networking group that was met with great enthusiasm. The event not only worked as a fast-paced way to share industry information, but as a way for members to get to know one another. Around 60 percent of the attendees stuck around afterward to mingle.

Although Ruggiero believes generational issues “may be over-hyped,” she realizes today’s structure-oriented society requires approaching the same problems she’s seen for the past 30 years from a whole new angle—many new angles.

Four ways to encourage multigenerational cooperation

1. Be all-inclusive. Glen Miller, a Pennsylvania-based consultant and owner of Performance Essentials Inc., has witnessed associations disenfranchise volunteers without even realizing it. Establish policies that encourage younger generations to participate by involving them in the decision-making of meaningful and important work. They may not have
a certain skill set, but they bring other skills to the table that are just as important.

2. Engage in reverse mentoring. The emphasis has always been on older generations teaching younger generations; however, Doug Zogby, president of Got Game! Consulting in Phoenix, says today’s organizations need to reverse that philosophy. Implementing a “Gen X/GenY Mentoring Boomers” program will help the older generations recognize the value of younger generations to the organization. “Hierarchy isn’t going to work anymore,” Zogby says.

3. Make no assumptions. Despite the articles you read, and the common traits they’ll each address about the different generations, Patti Fralix of the Fralix Group, a leadership excellence firm based in Raleigh, N.C., urges people to take into account personality and upbringing as well. Even in a volunteer setting, the key to success involves getting to know team players as individuals and not by their generational label. To benefit from the diversity, capitalize on the strengths, values, and experiences each individual brings to the table.

4. Think task force. The AE knows the veterans prefer in-person contact, but younger generations are too busy building their businesses. Maintain the regular committee setup but offer alternative problem-solving options as well. For the Gen X group, the task force works well because it has both a start and end date, and accomplishes a specific task. This approach provides an opportunity for the AE to utilize more membership talent. But to be most effective, the AE must clarify roles and responsibilities.

Where to learn more
The Center for Generational Studies
Robert Wendover, managing director, 800/227-5510,

Life Course
William Strauss, Neil Howe,
generational consultants,

Generation Why
Eric Chester, founder and president, 800/304-3742,

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