“Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.”
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden
The younger generations always seem to lack the qualities or hardships of their elders. Haven’t you heard a version of someone older than you who walked 10 miles to and from school–uphill both ways? Undoubtedly, you’ve read articles admonishing millennials for the threat their values present to society. Believed to be raised with an inflated sense of personal uniqueness, “snowflakes” are said to lack resilience and are too easily offended. But aren’t they also known as the most tech savvy generation that highly values diversity and meaningful work that could make the world a better place for everyone?
In truth, each generation has shaped society and the dynamics of business with their generally shared characteristics. So how do executives balance the unique talents and expectations of each generation within one work environment? A little insight into the different perspectives, motivations and work styles among generations can help us better understand and leverage the strengths of an entire team and avoid forcing guidelines that limit possibilities.
Mostly gone now, the Greatest Generation acquired their nickname for winning World War II. They were known for their sense of responsibility and patriotism, a strong work ethic and humble dignity. The Silent Generation followed but were less-often discussed; quietly sandwiched between the Greatest and the Boomers. Now in their 70s or older, some are still working in the C-suite or serving on Boards. They embraced the strong work ethic of their parents and the belief the getting ahead required long, hard hours at the office. I’ve interviewed leaders from this generation for Profiles and am fortunate to have many more as clients, from whom I’ve personally learned valuable lessons.
No one can deny the significant influence of the large Baby Boom generation. Coming of age in the 60s and 70s, boomers were more likely to question establishment, demand equal rights and seek personal gratification sooner than later. Ideologies often stood in stark contrast to those of their parents. However, they also believed anything was possible, were team-oriented and sought to make a difference. And despite rebellion, most retained or repurposed the lessons of previous generations, including a hard work-ethic.
Kevin Beverly learned the life-long importance of hard work on his first day of work when only 10 years old. After his father left home, Kevin’s older brother took him under his wing and taught him to be the first one there (school or a job) and work the hardest. “‘And if someone gives you something to do, you do it on their time, not yours. If someone’s asking you to get something done, you do it as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
During the Vietnam War Tom Frana followed in his father’s patriotic steps and decided to serve. Rather than waiting to be drafted he wanted to make his own decision about where in the military he’d go. So in choosing to join the Marine Corps, the experience laid the foundation for his own brand of leadership. “I learned, first of all, how important it is to look out for the welfare of your people at all times,” Tom explains.
The team-oriented Jim Speros followed his passion for football; seeking a work-life different than that of his parents while retaining the tenets of grit and hard-work he learned from them. He underscores the truth that people make people. “My success has always come from associating myself with good people,” he says. “I’ve tried to emulate and learn from them, and I've tried to support them by building strong teams."
A much smaller group, Generation X entered the workplace with a different work ethic and culture than previously seen. Having witnessed the burnout or layoffs of their hardworking parents, this generation has placed a premium on family time. While still ambitious and hardworking, they also strongly value work/life balance. With an entrepreneurial spirit and distain for rigid work requirements, Gen Xers introduced businesses to the world of flex schedules, virtual home-offices and payment for work completed rather than for hours worked. They also thrive on diversity, challenge, responsibility and creative input.
The millennials have delivered a string of 20-something philanthropic millionaires/billionaires and work spaces that look more like playgrounds than the offices of highly successful enterprises. Their love of minimalism and Tiny Homes spurs hope for a lasting desire to live within their means. With so much attention on Generation Y, did you happen to notice that the youngest members of the service-oriented Gen Z, aka Net-Gen, will soon be heading to college?
No matter what our peer-like characteristics or influences from other generations, successful leaders ultimately recognize that the determination to keep learning, keep trying and keep achieving must come from within themselves. Dawn Sweeny and Scott Goss both describe a time when this happened to each of them. “It was a defining moment because it was so clear to me what I needed to do, because it made me so happy to do it. It wasn’t about recognition or presentation. I just wanted to help,” said Dawn. Scott explained, “I can’t say what spurred that moment of waking up, but I know that it didn’t come from my parents, or the doctors, or any of the external voices trying to get through to me. It was a decision I, and only I, could make for myself.”
Thinking back on a recent Profiles in Success awards event, I credit the unique attributes of each person for helping to make it a fun and successful time. They are some of the same attributes we use in our wealth management efforts for our clients. Together we have generated a list of fundamental behaviors that describe how we put our focus on Character, Chemistry, Caring and Competence into action each day. It is called The Bernhardt Way.
Do you find the distinctive characteristics of other age groups compliment your business experience or challenge it? I hope you discover something in these pages that continue to move you and your team towards greater achievements.
Gordon J. Bernhardt
CPA, PFS, CFP®, AIF®
President and Founder
Bernhardt Wealth Management
Since establishing his firm in 1994, Gordon Bern¬hardt has been focused on providing high-quality ser¬vice and independent financial advice in order to help his clients make smart decisions about their money. He specializes in addressing the unique needs of successful professionals, entrepreneurs and retirees, as well as wom¬en in transition throughout the Washington, DC area. Over the years, Gordon has been sought out by numer¬ous media outlets including MSN Money, CNN Money, Kiplinger and The New York Times for his insight into subjects related to personal finance.