Today’s workplace is intergenerational. People must work together and lead others that are older, younger, different, and unique from themselves. Studies reveal that people raised in different generations have unique reference points to defining personal well-being, productivity, happiness, and success, which in turn shapes their approaches towards work, relationships, and learning. Adult Development Theory is a tool to help you understand yourself and your experiences while having an understanding of the types of people you work with and individuals you are called to lead. So how are you going to take your knowledge and understanding of Adult Development Theory to lead your team and achieve your team’s goals?
“In our own lives, as much as we try
to plan and chart our course,
it doesn’t always go as planned.”
It starts with you. Do you know where you are in life? You cannot be a good leader to a diverse, intergenerational team without knowing where you are. When you look at your life do you ever wonder, “How did I get here?” If you remember the song “Once in a Lifetime,” David Byrne asked himself that same question, “How did I get here?” In the song, he is at a sudden realization that maybe he is establishing a niche or settling down in life. Suddenly I have this automobile, wife, house, and how did this happen?
In our own lives, as much as we try to plan and chart our course, it doesn’t always go as planned. How are we supposed to know as 18-year-old kids what we want to do for the rest of our lives? I need to go to college and be done at this point, own a car at this age, be married by this age, have kids, and then I will be happy. Well sometimes that plan happens exactly the way you want and you won’t be singing “Once In a Lifetime,” but often it doesn’t. “How did I get here?” Often we are surprised with life in both good and bad ways, but are you taking the time to reflect and analyze where you are and where you want to go?
So how does all of this affect your work? Our work is actually a huge part of our lives. The first question that leads off any social event or cocktail party is, “What do you do?” It’s our careers that shape us, because we spend the majority of our time at work. Our mornings are rushed as we are getting ready or getting others ready to be out the door. We are at work for 8, 10, or 12 hours, and then back home for a bit, and then asleep. As most of our lives are spent at work we are simultaneously going through life stages, family, friends, health, and so on; therefore, where we are in life affects and alters our motivations to work.
Certainly, we all come for money, but in public service there is a limitation to your salaries that is defined by contracts or unions, so money may not be the only factor. There has to be other reasons for choosing your profession and coming to work every day. New entrants to the workforce are taught to think and respond differently than those in the middle or end of their careers, but they also have differing motivating factors.
When you first join an organization, generally everyone is the same age, meaning you are in the same transitional life stage, and has the same desires. For example, when you first joined the academy most people were probably around 22 – 28 years old or “entering adult world.” These individuals, like you, were probably figuring our his or her next path, deciding where they wanted to live, and for the first time truly making their own decisions without their parents. This environment, surrounded by people in the same life stage as you, is a unique subset. It is comfortable here because you are all going through the same structured environment; however, when you leave this environment, get the job, and join a department the bubble opens up, and you are among a sea of people in different life stages that are older, younger, have children, don’t have children, etc. Some individuals may be “settling down” and looking for promotional opportunities, while others may be in “middle life transition” and questioning their life choices. So now, you are called to lead this sea of individuals who may be nothing like you; how do you do that? Once you know where you are, you must do the same with every individual in your team. Your team is a collection of unique individuals whose generational differences shape the way he or she approaches work, relationships, and learning, and without truly knowing everyone in your team, how will you be able to grow them and utilize their unique skillsets? You must lead in an intentional way, and utilizing your knowledge of Adult Development Theory with yourself and your team is a good way to ensure you and your team will not fail.