At the start of our On The Table discussion about Leading Across Generations, I had to smile.  Appearing on my Zoom room screen were my fellow panelists, all of whom were younger, more ethnically diverse, and considerably more hip than me.  It was apparent that I was invited to represent a generation that was more . . . seasoned.  And so, in order not to get defensive about my status as an elder, I amused myself by thinking up euphemistic monikers for my advanced state of being. I also wondered if I could quickly call my daughter for a youth enhancing screen filter.  It was a delusional start, but it kept me from turning off my camera.

Fortunately, the moderator helped us all feel welcome, and I was able to mostly listen and learn.  My fellow panelists, representing Gen Zers to Xers, were clear about their leadership lenses. They urged us all to “unleash opportunities” for younger generations by putting them in leadership roles, build networks of influence across generations, and lean into mentoring in ways that break down barriers and build up pathways for new ways of thinking at the helm.  For my part, I thought it important to note that the way people learn is often different across the generations, and that positional power does not equate to meaningful leadership influence.  I also have learned that the most impactful leaders are the ones who align their actions with their core values, and who ultimately realize they have to feel empowered themselves in order to effectively empower others.

My fellow panelists urged that we all start practicing what we were preaching by engaging in intergenerational discussions about leadership, and to each use our own influence by being more inclusive and action oriented.  Since our discussion, I’ve taken their guidance to heart by being more conscious about mentoring younger colleagues, and by intentionally identifying and referring younger professionals, particularly leaders of color, to serve on organizational boards of directors. 

There’s no doubt we all deserve a seat at the leadership table and that we need to be vigilant about creating opportunities for leaders from all generations to be successful.  Personally, I’m hopeful that people will not stereotype what I may appear to be on the exterior.  But for backup, I’m going to text my daughter about that filter… calling her would be so passé.

This reflection piece was written for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service following an “On the Table” panel discussion hosted by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.