“Every generation sees the young people emerging into adulthood as a barbarian invasion. They feel untamable and chaotic.” Ken Wytsma, Founder, Justice Conference
It’s been said that we are living and working in an age of change. We see this in the national conversation around politics and religion. We feel this in our businesses and ministries where things like technology and globalization have forced us to alter our strategic models. Even in our families, values, preferences, and worldviews seem to shift from generation to generation. And while the reality and pace of change around us are real, far too often we limit our focus to the effects that change is having on our lives. Indeed, the disruption – even dysfunction – we are feeling in every life sphere (i.e., social, work, faith spaces) is undeniable.
Moreover, for leaders, the weight of this reality is enough to keep us up at night as we wrestle with how to keep our organizations from failing, and strategize around how we can move them toward flourishing. Yes, leadership is key to our success in this age of change. However, when we peel back the layers to find what is driving this disruption, the answer may surprise you.
Now, you may have heard of a group of young people coined "Millennials." Whether through the countless books and articles written about them or through your own experience, you've probably formed a few opinions and accepted some of the mainstream stereotypes. However, let's separate fact from fiction. Here are a few core truths:
- Millennials are not the problem.
- Neither are they the solution.
- The future flourishing of our communities is highly dependent upon our ability to tap the potential of their generational diversity.
What is generational diversity?
While the conversation around diversity in our communities is, for many, a high priority, too often the discussion starts with ethnic diversity and stops with gender disparity. As such, the dividing lines separating different age groups are allowed to ravage and undermine our efforts to grow healthy, thriving communities.
As others have noted, this is the first time in modern history that four distinct generations have actively co-existed in the workplace (i.e., Millennials, GenXers, Boomers, and Elders). Not to be left out, Generation Z is beginning to graduate high school and enter the workforce as well. Thus, the confluence of so many different worldviews, life and workstyle preferences, and more has left many leaders struggling to find solutions that move their communities forward in healthy and healing ways. Indeed, the growing cultural dissonance between age cohorts, if left unchecked, only exacerbates our inability to communicate, collaborate, compromise or even coexist effectively. And yet, there is good news!
Amidst all this diversity, there remains one constant – calling. Calling is a great equalizer.
The importance of calling
Amidst all this diversity, there remains one constant – calling. Calling is a great equalizer. For the last several years, I (Paul) had the opportunity to travel and speak to thousands of people in multiple countries championing the notion of calling. Here’s my final observation. Regardless of your ethnic background, generation, and socio-economic status, every person is on a life-long search of discovering and living out their God-given calling.
Granted, the word calling has been blatantly abused by the mainstream media losing its original meaning and essence. This warrants a biblical restoration of the word. In my book Quarter-Life Calling (FaithWords, 2017) I define calling as “God’s personal invitation to work on his agenda by unleashing my God-given design to glorify God.” In other words, calling is not a self-development, narcissistic process of living out your “American Dream.” Calling must always start with the Caller. As believers, our Caller is the Creator and Author of life, God. The Bible rarely describes calling as your ‘perfect job’ but rather calling is primarily about entering into an intimate, covenantal relationship with the Caller.
To use the terminology of social critic Os Guinness, author of The Call (Thomas Nelson, 2003), our call to Christ is our primary calling. Our secondary callings are concrete and practical ways in which we fulfill our primary calling—following and serving Christ—by serving others through our God-given design.
Secondary callings are often plural, and they fall within four distinct areas of life: the family, the church, our community and our vocations. It is in this last area, vocational calling, that we seek to pursue the work we are called to through a process of discerning the sweet spot of our wiring, passions, strengths and life experiences. Frederick Buechner said it best: "Calling is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."
Here’s an important truth. If you’re currently in a job where you feel stuck and one which perhaps isn’t your vocational sweet spot, you have plenty of opportunities to live out your other secondary callings, whether it be in your family or church community. Erica Young Reitz said it best, “We can live out our central, general calling no matter where we are or what we’re doing for paid work.”
So, what does this all mean?
While change is indeed happening all around us, and though we may be tempted as leaders to focus on its impact to stem the immediate effects, we must not lose sight of the true culprit behind much of our organizational issues - generational diversity. It is the silent killer that is pulling apart the threads of our communities. It is the underlying factor that continues to thwart our success. It is the accelerant that drives us apart, keeps us from being more effective, and hinders our ability to find the flourishing we desire.
We must become intergenerational leaders.
Becoming intergenerational leaders
As such, we must become intergenerational leaders. These are leaders who lean on their emotional intelligence to leverage self-awareness and empathy to cross the cultural divides that exist between different age cohorts. They are leaders that rely on their generational intelligence to understand and successfully navigate the distinct generational contexts of different people groups. They are leaders who see their role as servants first, tasked with stewarding, shepherding, and supporting those entrusted to their care.
Ultimately, intergenerational leaders are those who willingly and obediently accept that it is about getting beyond ourselves to see what God is doing in our midst and world – and embracing the privilege of helping others to follow their calling and play their part in God's grand plan. Indeed, it is about seeing the people around us as God sees them and saying, "You matter. Your story matters. What you bring to the table matters."
In doing so, despite the generational diversity of their communities, these leaders start the process of leadership at the point of individual-calling – first their own in accepting God's call to lead, and then their people's. Their unique ability to thrive amidst all the change and diversity is directly proportionate to their acceptance of God's invitation to become the vision casters, influence peddlers, hope dealers and heart healers that this world needs. Moreover, these leaders reach their preferred futures at a greater rate because they have an uncanny ability to leverage the equalizing power of calling to move people from occupational thinking to vocational being… from the rat race to the mission space. And when they (we) are successful, the fruit that remains is often the fruit that lasts – communities that have moved from failing to flourishing.
Paul Sohn is the founder of QARA where he guides emerging adults to discover their God-given calling. Paul is a best-selling author of Quarter-Life Calling: Pursuing Your God-Given Purpose in Your Twenties (FaithWords, 2017). Paul was named one of the Top 33 under 33 Christian Millennials to Follow by Christianity Today. Dr. Arthur L. Satterwhite III is a recognized voice on Millennials, Generational Diversity, and Intergenerational Leadership. Dr. Satterwhite is a sought-after speaker, professor, writer, and consultant. He also serves as the Vice President of Multiethnic Ministries with Young Life. To learn more, visit Dr. Satterwhite’s website at www.satterwhiteco.com, or find him on Twitter @asatterwhiteiii.