The Truth About Managing Boomers and Vets

Last Updated Aug 4, 2009 1:20 AM EDT

Last week, I shared tips from my interview with writer and speaker Nancy Ahlrichs about managing multiple generations, which she recently lectured about at Washington University in St. Louis' Olin Business School. The last installment focused on leading Generations X and Y, so this week we'll look at a few things managers need to know when working with veterans (born in 1945 and before) and baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964). Ahlrichs says these generations:
  • 1. Expect to be managed: Whereas Generations X and Y respond better to a coaching style of leadership, boomers and veterans are generally more comfortable with traditional management styles.
  • 2. Respond to consensus-building and team work: Managers should make sure they have boomers and veterans on each office team, as these generations place a lot of value on collaboration.
  • 3. Want to learn new skills: Ahlrichs says the stereotypes about veterans and boomers being uninterested in technology simply isn't true: "Research has shown that 88 percent want to learn new skills, but they don't feel that their companies are doing a very good job of teaching them."
  • 4. Accept change if they get to contribute: Another stereotype says that boomers and veterans resist change. However, many of them will get on board if they have a say in driving new developments.
As organizations are making way for Generation Z, the 20 to 22-year-olds joining the workforce, Ahlrichs says it's important for organizations to have "healthy representation from all the generations and to value the contributions of all generations."

Those of you in the St. Louis area may be interested in attending an upcoming seminar with the Olin Partners' Program. Director Thomas Conway organizes 24 seminars a year, most of which are a day long, and serve mid-level and senior managers. Many speakers are Olin senior faculty and others are outside speakers, such as Ahlrichs. Conway says, "All of our speakers have had corporate experience, and they are very connected with the realities of business." Definitely a good way to get back to b-school for a day.

  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.