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Forging Connections Through Intergenerational Leadership

By Marcia Silva posted 01-11-2023 04:05:09 PM

  

Headshot of Dr. Saint Rice, Jr.Dr. Saint Rice, Jr., Assistant Dean in the Washington University Olin School of Business and Director of Faculty, Staff, and Community Engagement, Washington University in St. Louis and HERC Advisory Board Member 



As an administrator in the criminal justice field, Dr. Saint Rice saw younger generations entering the workforce and noticed that the practices regarding leadership development were not connecting with Millennials and Gen Z and needed to be updated. New employees that were excited to enter the field and impact their communities quickly became disillusioned.

“Probably within seven months or so, I saw the glow in their eyes was gone, and many of them were contemplating or had made the decision to leave,” Rice said.

This motivated Rice to develop a training program that looked at increasing retention and making connections between multiple generations. It was his introduction to the idea of intergenerational leadership. Each generation comes in with different values they’ve learned or adopted, and Rice studied how they could be welcomed into the workspace.

Rice earned a Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership at Maryville University. He focuses on the impact of socialization on the experiences, struggles, and strengths of African American male students entering higher education from disadvantaged backgrounds. Additionally, his research investigates the development of leadership styles and their alignment with individual personality types.

He is now the Assistant Dean and Director of Faculty, Staff, and Community Engagement at Washington University in St. Louis. His methods could help organizations retain employees by improving trust, communication, creativity, belonging, and support in the workforce and reducing stress. It could also create lattices and ladders to help employees move across and up in organizations by creating spaces for informal mentoring.

As a professor in the classroom, Rice engaged in conversations with criminal justice students about the profession’s traditional views, practices, and management styles. These discussions helped to prepare the students for professional expectations of the career path, building bridges between the generations of workers.

Additionally, Rice discussed other strategies for improving connections within intergenerational leadership. One way to build those connections is through listening circles. Employees can gather in small groups and respond to questions designed to get authentic responses: What influences you? What causes you to be successful? What challenges have you overcome to get to where you are?

“That moves what may be considered negative experiences to more valuable experiences,” Rice said. “Because now I’m utilizing that experience that shaped my values and moved me forward.”

One way to facilitate these discussions is to create small groups of people from different departments that would meet regularly, such as quarterly lunch meetings. Rice mentioned that one organization started doing this at the leadership level first to model having these conversations and creating a space for learning from one another and building relationships across departments.  

On an individual level, managers can also ask employees what traits are most important to them in a potential leader or their ideas for creating more effective communication within the organization.

“Employers and leaders get a chance to hear the perspectives of employees, giving them a chance to have a voice which yields many benefits to the organization in the long run,” Rice said.

Rice believes Gen Z wants an autonomous, creative work environment and communication. It’s also a shift in organizational thinking and organizational behavior. Removing physical walls in the tech world, so there are no offices, creates a shared common space and more creativity within the team. The question is, how do we do that in higher education? How do we break down the formal or informal barriers?

The opportunity to have an impact keeps Rice in higher education. “I've always been a servant,” Rice said. “Servant Education and innovative change management are the foundations of my leadership style. I was tired of being the only one sitting at the table, so how could I create this inclusive environment? When I transitioned from criminal justice to higher education, I looked for areas to develop more equitable pathways. Education is considered the great equalizer for historically marginalized groups. However, the existing boundaries and barriers can be broken down by engaging in conversations about Intergenerational Leadership.

“The work I do is a calling. I'm thankful I have certifications and degrees, but those things mean nothing if we're not out there having an impact, actually doing the work to open up more doors.”

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About the Author: Harold Gutmann is the director of brand and marketing strategy at Santa Clara University. He is a longtime writer and editor who is proud to work in higher education, and encourages all job seekers to consider it.

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