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Posted by on Nov 2, 2016

How Coaches Overcome Generational Differences

How Coaches Overcome Generational Differences

A young professional beside an older professional.It’s popular these days to generation-bash. Who among us hasn’t heard colleagues decry the disloyalty and entitlement of millennials, or the outdated thinking and rigidity of boomers? Who hasn’t come close to, or fallen into, perpetuating generational stereotypes, even by way of commiserating silently with others?  When working with millennials in particular, coaches have to be able to break through the catch-all stereotypes of generational difference.

Leaders are right to be concerned about the impact of beliefs, expectations, and behaviors held by all generations in their workforce. And we are right to consider how our current context can create perceived differences in personality and values. Increasingly, however, research is finding that differences we often attribute to someone’s generation have more to do with a person’s age, maturity, and experience than the grouping of years in which a person was born. With a growing number of millennials and later generations taking leadership roles in organizations, it’s important to understand how to more effectively coach these emerging leaders to build the capabilities organizations need to thrive in the future.

While research is still limited in the area of generations and age in relation to coaching effectiveness, we do know a lot about what makes coaching effective.

In a study published in 2015, the top three factors with the most impact on coaching effectiveness include factors associated with the coach, with the client, and with their relationship:

With the coach: Do they create trust with their client? Do they have solid management communication skills? What’s their commitment to the individual client and the organization? Can they motivate?

With client behavior: How motivated is the client to learn and change? How committed is the client to their development and do they feel responsible for it?

With the coach-client relationship: Is there trust? Is it confidential? Respectful? Authentic?

A more recent study suggests that in a strong coach-coachee relationship, effective tasks and goals may be more influential than bonding. Matching based on personalities might not be as necessary or effective for coaching outcomes as you might like to think. Instead, coaches need to look less at stereotypical generational differences and more at personal-level differences in maturity, experience, and age.


How does age come into play?

It turns out, in results from another recent study, executives between the ages of 30-39 exhibit lower levels of self-reflection and a lower degree of observed behavior change (as judged by organizational stakeholders) than those executives between 40-49 and 50-59.

Clients in the 30-39 age group were not defensive and were willing and eager to participate in the coaching experience. However, what they might need is extra motivation to explore more deeply. This might be prompted by difficult feedback in a 360 review or a direct conversation with the coach or a supervisor. If you’re a coach working with coachees ages 30-39, remember they’re likely focused on performance, and adherence to the rules it takes to establish themselves professionally. Deep self-reflection might not come without a struggle, or feedback indicating that a closer look in the mirror is warranted. This can easily be misinterpreted by younger individuals unwilling to self-reflect or unsuitable for effective coaching. But, before we jump to that conclusion, let’s remember a few things:

  1. Coaching is personal, not general. Whatever you believe to be true about your coachee from your experience or from a scientific study, check in with your coachee: ask how self-reflective they are, gauge their desire to create change.
  2. If coachee commitment and motivation to change is an important factor in coaching effectiveness, pay attention. Look at your effectiveness in motivating them. How clear and inspiring are the goals and tasks? What is your level of trust? Can you communicate in a way that connects with your client? How else can you build commitment?
  3. If something is getting in the way of being a more effective coach, and you think it has to do with generational differences, take the time to revisit your working alliance and see how else they’d like you to “show up” in your support of them. You can also take this to a coach supervisor or mentor. Not only can you think about additional approaches to working with your client, you can gain insight on what’s standing in the way of being the effective coach your coachee calls for.

If you can help your coachee to better self-reflection and adaptability, you can empower them to bridge the gaps not between generations, but between age, stage of life, and professional maturity. After all, your conversations on these issues involve the personal attention and connection that makes coaching so effective.

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