An elderly couple arrived and began chatting to the waitress, who they seemed to know, and asked her about her teenage daughter. “Oh, she’s off to University in the Autumn, said Proud Mum. She’s accepted a place to study textile design”.
“Ah well,” sighed Elderly Chap, “maybe she’ll find a nice young man to take care of her.”
I was well brought up. I respect elderly people.
But I wanted to yell at him. REALLY yell at him.
How dare he assume that any woman needs ‘taken care of’! How dare he treat her academic success and aspiration so casually! The mindset of the man!
I fumed for a while, rehearsing in my head all the things I’d like to say to him.
Then I started to think about my own mindset. The slightly patronising way I had referred to so-called ‘Millennials’ with a client earlier in the week. My surprised pleasure at meeting a senior manager who not only had a strong leadership profile but extremely high emotional intelligence. Aged 31.
So: I wanted to yell at Elderly Chap. Then I wanted to thank him. For helping me to pull myself up on my own spurious assumptions and make a very large note to self.
As consultants, we increasingly see inter-generational conflict in the businesses we work with. We see senior leaders in their mid-40s onwards who are failing to understand the mindsets of the younger people who work for them or the values that drive them. As a result they make assumptions about their lack of drive or lack of loyalty that – like mine – are completely spurious.
By focussing on the differences we miss out on the benefits they bring: the energy, the balance, the desire to make work flexible and fun, the tech-savviness that means they can do many things in a fraction of the time that it takes those who are not ‘digital natives’. And so much more.
Elderly Chap will never know the impact he had. Maybe just as well; I suspect he’d be horrified!