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Leadership-development technology can be a bridge between generations

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Two decades ago, if you polled most employees inquiring whether their boss was older or younger, “older” would have been the overwhelming response. Now, the answer would not be as decisive. A shifting power dynamic between Generation Y and the Baby Boomers is changing the landscape of the workplace. As a result, the leadership-development discussion between manager and employee is also being transformed.

Technology’s role

The average age of the CEO is decreasing, while life expectancy and retirement age are increasing. We see multi-billion-dollar startups by 28-year-olds and older employees increasingly reporting to younger supervisors. Performance is becoming valued over age and, as a result, the workplace is being turned upside down.

At the root of the shift, we find Gen Y — individuals born, most broadly, between the late 1970s and the early 2000s — who were raised on technology. They don’t recall a time without cell phones or chatting online. They are accustomed to extreme personalization and instant information; Pandora introduces them to music they’ll like, Facebook ads cater to their interests and hobbies, and Amazon suggests the next book that they’ll read.

Their Baby Boomer counterparts aren’t too shabby with technology, either. They may not have been raised with a laptop in hand, but they have adapted as technology was infused into the workplace. They have adjusted to – and thrive by – having their smartphones in hand.

What does this mean for leadership development?

Traditional leadership development is amiss in this nontraditional, mixed-generation, technologically savvy world. Gone are the days when learning had to be done in the classroom. While corporate universities have been staples for decades, classroom-based learning is expensive and time-intensive – especially for global organizations that need employees to come to a central location for standardized learning. More importantly, employees are unlikely to recall the lessons learned after sitting in an eight-hour course once a year.

Corporations can more effectively allocate leadership-development budgets by using the technology that their employees are already comfortable with. Cloud-based leadership-development programs can provide managers with personalized advice in real time. Rather than following a formulaic approach to climbing the ranks within an organization, these tools drive team members to become the best leaders they can be by tapping into their individual strengths.

In order to be most effective, these programs should ensure that management tips are:

  • Short: The drawback of all this available technology is that attention spans are limited);
  • Personalized: Gen Y was raised on customization, and their leadership development must also be personalized, but everyone benefits from discarding the one-size-fits-all approach;
  • Constant: The need for feedback and real-time implementation is a reflection of increased instant communication.

Tomorrow’s leaders

Whether they emerge from the Baby Boomer generation, Gen X or Gen Y, tomorrow’s leaders expect their training to encompass more than classroom-based learning, and they expect to be a part of carving their own paths to success. Cloud-based, personalized technology that enhances individual strengths and provides advice in real time is not going to build the leaders of the future. It’s going to help those leaders build themselves. Classroom learning isn’t dead, but without customized technology to reinforce and heighten learning and development, it might as well be.

Charlotte Jordan is the president of The Marcus Buckingham Co., creators of StandOutM, a cloud-based, personalized leadership-development program designed to address the leadership needs of any generation. She is an expert in strengths-based leadership.