Building Consensus and Resolving Conflict Across Generations in Association Leadership
In association leadership, diversity considerations extend beyond traditional categories to include age and experience. Acknowledging the distinct perspectives, insights, and priorities of different generations is essential for organizational success. However, according to an article by Associations Now, achieving consensus across generations can be challenging, as exemplified by a nonprofit in Maine dedicated to incorporating Gen Z members onto boards.
The founders of this nonprofit, Steve Kaagan and John Hagan, shared their experiences in a report titled “Learning From an Intergenerational Blowup Over Social Justice,” published by Stanford Social Innovation Review. The breakdown in their effort was attributed to miscommunication and differing perspectives, particularly regarding the importance of social justice issues. While older leaders may be welcoming, younger leaders may view these issues as “all-encompassing,” leading to misunderstandings and stereotyping.
To navigate such challenges, the authors emphasize the need for proactive communication. Organizers should address how conversations will be handled beforehand and establish mechanisms for resolving conflicts. Identifying and understanding deeply held values at the outset can prevent later conflicts. Project participants should explicitly discuss differences and similarities in values to avoid future disputes.
Despite efforts to preempt conflicts, some level of tension may be inevitable and, in certain cases, even desirable for stress-testing organizational values. To maintain momentum, the authors recommend establishing efficient mechanisms for dispute resolution that do not overly detract from project progress.
The pervasive nature of intergenerational conflict is highlighted by a survey indicating that 35 percent of workers feel their company’s culture and processes favor one generation over others. Bridging these gaps requires leaders to proactively consider and communicate their values before individuals enter boardrooms and offices.
Understanding not just what others think but also why they think it and how they act on their values in the workplace is crucial for moving forward collectively. Ultimately, success hinges on open and difficult conversations that illuminate differences before they escalate into fractures.
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