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Cross-Generational Conversations to Take CEOs to the Next Level of Success

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Whether you are the CEO of a long-established company, or the founder of a public, privately-owned or non-profit organization, as highly respected coach Marshall Goldsmith wrote, “What got you here won’t get you there.” In other words, the skills and traits that led to success in early career are not the same as those needed in mid-career and senior management.

The latter skills are the interpersonal ones, the ability to be empathetic, leadership qualities, critical thinking skills, cultural agility – not technical skills so much. You can’t Google those. They come from relationships and conversations to get advice, from mentoring and firsthand experience from people you work with in some way. Communication skills, specifically conversation skills, are becoming a lost art with constant use of technology, short snippets of language and images.

No organization can be sustainable without knowledge transfer and succession planning. There is no way to accomplish this without cross-generational conversation and developing intergenerational relationships at work. Even companies that are comprised of mostly one generation, such as tech, will in a short while need to become multi-generational. They all need a diversity of skills and worldviews to be stable and keep being communities of learning.

In the very lively discussions I facilitate around cross-generational conversation at work and the themes covered in my book on 10 essential skills and traits for success explored through generational lenses, conscious conversation skills come up over and over again from both older and younger generations. Once we establish a non-threatening environment, the questions and comments, both factual (as the individual sees it) and emotional, flow forth. In fact, once the spigot opens, the discussion builds until the time we have to clear the room.

The focus of discussions moves from problems to how to take action to find solutions.

We address such questions as –

  • Who should initiate the conversation in the organization – the CEO, Human Resources or someone else?
  • What needs to be said to start and how do you say it without being accusatory or defensive?
  • How do you get beyond your comfort level?
  • What are the motivating factors for leaders and individuals?
  • How do you establish and embed a culture that promotes high productivity, healthy intergenerational understanding and relationships and loyal, “ownership” feelings?

Most people of all generations want most to feel respected, valued and relevant at work. CEOs, whether of start-ups or mature businesses need to remember this and strive every day to convey to their employees and external stakeholders those three emotional rewards. It’s equally or more important than increasing the percentage of profits every year. In fact, the profits won’t be sustainable without conveying the respect, value and relevance because top talent will leave to find them elsewhere.

Related: A Cross-Generational Dive Into the Training Pool

The skills to achieve the above are different from the technical, sales and service delivery skills that typically take people from early to mid-career and then on to CEO and other senior positions. The only way to acquire and practice the more advanced leadership skills such as empathy, perspective, reciprocity, cultural agility and rapport, and personalization is through meaningful conversations with people of all generations, learning their expectations, what motivates them and their worldviews.

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