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Effective Leadership in a Multicultural & Multigenerational Workplace

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Increasing rates of innovation and globalization require higher quantities of complex interactions among people from diverse cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds. People no longer live and work in a restricted marketplace (Bhardwaj, Sharma & Deepshikha, 2017). This increased global visibility has completely changed the dynamics of leadership roles. The transition from local director to international leader has changed the dynamic of leadership roles, as increased diversity creates organizational challenges.

Although leadership principles can be more complex, a culturally and generationally diverse workplace provides endless problem-solving perspectives that could otherwise go unnoticed. In order to fully utilize the benefits brought forward in a diverse workplace, there are four dynamics that an effective leader must continually execute: creating and maintaining a shared vision, understanding attitudes and expectations, establish and maintain communication channels, manage cultural knowledge gaps.

Creating and Maintaining a Shared Common Vision

Successful leaders recognize the importance of creating a concise shared vision for their teams. This vision can serve as a moral compass, a source of motivation, and even a sales tool when used in the proper context. Effective leaders work to develop others who share their vision by energizing everyone around them. Dr. Patricia Thompson (2018) emphasizes four principals crucial to creating an exciting organizational vision:

  • Be concise about goals and expectations.
  • Dream Big.
  • Communicate a strong purpose.
  • Set strategic goals.

It is imperative that this vision not only falls in line with company culture but inspires a sense of connection and belonging within the workplace. These types of connections present an opportunity to bridge cultural and generational gaps between teammates, further establishing a common purpose on behalf of the organization. This comradery enables increased levels of trust, collaboration, and productivity in the workplace, creating an environment designed to successfully convey company vision in a manner that engages all levels of an organization (Lugo, 2013).

Aside from an internal boost in moral, a powerful organizational vision can serve as an excellent recruiting tool. Google is a perfect example of this, as the company receives over two million job applications per year, making the chances of becoming a new hire at Google less likely than being accepted into Harvard (Phelps, 2014). This has enabled Google to hand pick a workforce far more diverse than their tech counterparts, furthering the organization’s reach and appeal.

Biggins (2018) states: A diverse workforce will bring different ideas and new ways of thinking to the table. They’ll be able to serve your client or customer base better. Members of staff that come from a range of backgrounds will have had different experiences, giving them a greater understanding of different points of views. This can be useful for empathizing or problem-solving in various situations, offering more tailored support to clients or customers. A diverse culture and a powerful shared vision have helped Google and its parent organizations grow into one of the world’s largest, most profitable companies. This could not have happened without trained, effective leadership to lure talent to the organization.

Understanding Attitudes and Expectations

“Opposites attract” has been a popular expression within American pop culture when referring personal relationships but fails to facilitate validity in a professional context. People with individual differences are more prone to communication conflicts than people with shared generational and cultural backgrounds (Bhardwaj, Sharma & Deepshikha, 2017). These variances create natural message delivery barriers which must be dissolved to enable effective organizational communication channels. For this reason, leadership ideologies become much more complex as organizational diversity increases. However, effective leadership can extract the benefits of a multicultural workforce. To harness these benefits, leadership must be capable of navigating the following notions.

Address Differences in Culture

Effective leadership requires the recognition and understanding of cultural discrepancies in the workplace. For example: Asian cultures, such as those of Japan and China, view older workers positively, as they often bring wisdom and experience to the workplace. This is a stark difference from Western societies, where aging employees are often viewed as a burden or liability while the enthusiasm and ambition of younger employees is celebrated.

Members of the Millennial generation often find traditional communication methods cumbersome and archaic while more mature professionals view social media as a waste of time (Merrill, 2016). Each generation and culture may require different engagement tactics to optimize productivity and maintain moral. Knowing and understanding these differences will allow for the optimization of communication channels throughout all levels of the organization, in turn, increasing productivity and efficiency (Bhardwaj, Sharma & Deepshikha, 2017).

Variances in culture and age will also produce vastly different sets of personal, professional, and fiscal goals. Baby boomers are less concerned with status and more concerned with viable employment while Millennials often trade job security for status, as they view their career as a reflection of their success. Variances in cultural upbringing can influence financial decision making on both personal and professional levels. Employees raised in an affluent household will likely have different financial values based on their prosperity compared to employees who were raised with financial hardships (Gelbtuch & Morlan, 2015). These are two examples of the many cultural psychographics which will require evaluation to demonstrate effective leadership in a diverse workplace. Efficient workforce engagement through proper channels, acknowledgment of personal goals, and education of the cultural variables at play are all crucial in catering to the goals of subordinates (Bhardwaj, Sharma & Deepshikha, 2017).

Manage Perceptions and Stereotypes

The world’s business climate is evolving. People are living longer, and socioeconomic factors are requiring many to work past a traditional retirement age, resulting in as many as four generations of people are working together. This combined with varying cultural norms and perceptions makes for an incredibly complex collection of thoughts and ideals in the workplace. Variances in attitudes, behaviors, expectations, motivations, attitudes, and communication styles can create rifts between employees and foster organizational tension (Gelbtuch & Morlan, 2015).

For example: older workers often perceive millennials as snarky, entitled, and too eagar for their own good while millennial employees find elder generations out of touch and difficult to coexist with in the workplace. Education of these generational and cultural ideals through both formal training in the workplace and informal interactions outside of work will strengthen employee bonds and eliminate the potential of organizational erosion due to preconceived bias. This sort of effective collaboration will increase multicultural understanding, which contributes to increased activity across all multicultural and multigenerational communication channels (Merrill, 2016).

Establish and Maintain Effective Communication Channels

Effective leadership should avoid making assumptions about each generation, but instead listen carefully when communicating with them on a case-to-case basis to better understand their values in the workplace. The development of these types of effective two-way communication channels within a multicultural, multigenerational workplace environment is a complex task as communication preferences vary greatly by age. Successful leadership should have an extensive background in the dynamics of effective communication channels, of should collaborate with professionals well versed in the field. Johnson & Hackman (2018) noted that “Theorists, consultants, instructors, and writers offer a great many skill typologies or classifications to guide developing leaders.” This type of expert professional collaboration can aid the development of effective communication channels.

Leadership should be well versed in essential interpersonal communication skills such as body posture, eye contact, effective use of language, clear tone of voice, clear speech patterns, active listening skills. An effective multigenerational leader will speak with clear and concise language, allowing each generational and cultural cohort to understand. Slang words and other types of generational terms should be avoided as they change from one generation and culture to the next, creating the potential for breakdowns in communication.

A term meaning one thing to baby boomers can mean something completely different to Millennials (Wesolowski, 2014). For example: “wicked” means cool or awesome to younger generations but evil or bad to older generations. The adoption these fundamental communication skills to an organization builds trust and improves the working relationship between leadership and their employees as well as team members of different backgrounds. When replicated at all levels, this type of symmetrical communication within the workplace can be a catalyst for organizational effectiveness. Benefits of this effectiveness include but are not limited to; increased creative development, a stronger foothold in the global marketplace, and added organizational ability better suited to predict changes in business climate (Bhardwaj, Sharma & Deepshikha, 2017).

Manage Cultural Knowledge Gaps

Effective multicultural leadership allows for increased research, creativity, and collaboration in the workplace. This type of workplace environment reflects the globalization of today’s business climate, enabling professionals from various cultures and generations to contribute continually-changing perspectives towards a common goal (Biggins, 2018). To fully utilize these multicultural collaborations, all members of the workplace must feel that their values, beliefs, and perspectives are understood and appreciated. Emphasis on the following two components will optimize a multicultural workplace’s efficiency and output.

Enable Cross-cultural Mentoring

Creating a workplace environment based on mutual respect and understanding, generational mentoring, and cross-communicational skill building, will gain an enhanced understanding and appreciation of one another. This mutual respect and appreciation for one another helps eliminate stereotypes and enhances communications amongst workplace members, further enabling opportunities to teach, share, and learn from one another (Bhardwaj, Sharma & Deepshikha, 2017). This type of data sharing, or effective collaboration is crucial in understanding the behavior of others. Effective leadership should have a comprehensive understanding of the cultural and generational dynamics within their team, enabling proper handling of issues and avoiding unnecessary tension and animosity. This enables the recognition of cross-cultural issues that could potentially interfere with the relationship between managers and employees. To be a successful leader and mentor, there are two important dynamics that should be continually engaged; self-awareness and active listening.

Self-awareness is crucial in self-improvement, and leadership should strive to continually improve their skills in listening, understanding, and data capture. Active listening becomes especially important when engaging a generationally and culturally diverse workplace, as it is crucial in the removal of cultural communication barriers (Parvis, 2003). Alternatively, the unwillingness to value input from different generations or cultures enables decreased productivity, stereotypes, and resentment in the workplace. These types of communication barriers lend to a dysfunctional work environment which fosters less productivity through limited workplace communication channels (Goldstein, 2017). Effective leadership should prevent these communication breakdowns by appreciating and understanding peers’ perspectives while minimizing distrust and incompatibility.

Recognize Diverse Skill Sets

A multigenerational, multicultural workplace brings different perspectives to the group, and the ability to acknowledge these perspectives and task them accordingly is crucial in leadership roles (Merrill, 2016). For example: Baby Boomers may excel in a role that is dependent on interpersonal interaction during traditional business hours, while many Millennials thrive in non-traditional work environments such as remote office scenarios and interactions that are mostly digital. Keeping variables such as this in mind when delegating tasks will emphasize effectiveness as a leader while maximizing efficiency as an organization. The ability to continually modify workplace specifics, communication styles, and methods of employee engagement is crucial in the comprehension of the motivations for each generation and culture in the workplace in order to gain a better understanding of their values (Wesolowski, 2014).

In conclusion, today’s organizations face massive changes as workforces are becoming increasingly multi-generational and culturally diverse. Through the use of strengthened communication, active workplace mentoring, and efficient knowledge management, leadership can successfully navigate organizational shifts to achieve increased efficiency and increased adaptability to future business environment alterations (Parvis, 2003).


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