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True or false: Different generations need different kinds of leaders. Conventional wisdom says older generations want a command-and-control type of leader and that younger generations want leaders who include them more in decision-making. But recent research from the Center for Creative Leadership says that effective leadership is less about style and more about substance.

According to CCL’s Jennifer Deal, people of all generations want leaders who are credible and trustworthy, above all else. She explains that the way leaders demonstrate this will differ according to personality and situation, but there are no strong preferences for one ‘type’ of leadership by any generation.

Before beginning the research study, Deal, along with other CCL faculty, learned from client organizations of the major disconnect among the generations’ expectations of leadership. Sometimes the failure of a leader is attributed to her not having the leadership attributes that one generation — or another — thinks are most necessary to be a good leader. Others, clients said, fail because they cannot connect with a particular generation of employees.

Deal and her team wanted to see how the different generations viewed effective leadership, so that they could help clients better develop needed capabilities. But rather than confirming the assumptions that they’d been hearing, the research found generations in agreement on the essential attributes they want to see in their leaders.

The study created a process for people to rank the leadership attributes they thought were most important. More than half of the people surveyed and participants from all generations chose the following traits as most important in a leader: that the leader is credible, trusted, listens well, is farsighted, encouraging, dependable, focused, a good coach, dedicated and experienced.

So why the perception that different generations expect different things from their leaders? Deal explains that lack of confidence in leaders isn’t about a generational disagreement; it is about what leaders do and say. A leader’s behaviors may signal different things to different people.

While you won’t know exactly how every word and action is interpreted by the people around you, now you know that everyone wants leaders to be credible and trustworthy. With this common ground to guide you, you can find ways to build these traits into your own behavior and encourage it in the people you lead.

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