Exponent Leadership: Managing Across Generations

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“I am finding it challenging aligning and getting the best out of my staff. My senior staff complains about these young kids not wanting to do anything, and the younger staff complains about how none on the senior staff want to hear their ideas.” Managing Across Generations


At 56, Sharon was the Executive Director of an 800-person non-profit agency. She had started working for the agency when she was 18 and had been Executive Director for the last ten years of her 38-year tenure.

Sharon contacted me, who told me, “I am finding it challenging aligning and getting the best out of my staff. My senior staff complains about these young kids not wanting to do anything, and the younger staff complains about how none of the senior staff want to hear their ideas.”

Further discussion surfaced these issues:
  • Within 5-8 years, the majority of the agency’s management team would retire.
    Currently, the agency has a dumbbell age effect, with Boomers and Generation-Y employees comprising most of their population.
  • Many of the better and brighter younger staff are leaving the agency for other jobs.
  • The agency, while successful, has grown stagnant; Sharon is not receiving new ideas nor innovations for the future.
  • In further discussion and observations of several team meetings, it became apparent that the staff loved their work and cared deeply about those they served.


I was contracted for 12 months to consult and coach Sharon using the Exponent Leadership Process.

As this was a non-profit agency with an active Board, I began by facilitating a team problem-solving workshop. In the end, the Board had a shared sense of the situation and a clear idea of what type of program they would be comfortable pursuing. I also observed team meetings and conducted interviews with staff members and community partners.

The following agency-wide program was developed and implemented:

Collaboration Across Departments

The 5-person leadership team spent four months focused on collaboration. They created a unified theme under which the agency would operate, key objectives aligned to the theme, and operational targets for each department that would enhance the theme. They developed a measurement and feedback system which was used weekly to evaluate progress.

The Leadership University

Four key development competencies were established for every employee: setting goals, making decisions, planning, and time management. The Leadership University was created for various levels of staff based on their role requirements.

The Mentoring Program

The mentoring program was intended to create a connection between generational staff. It focused on what they could learn from and teach each other about the agency and their work.

My role in this was to coach Sharon and serve as a content creator and expert for the areas mentioned above. The coaching relationship gave Sharon feedback and ideas from an outside perspective and challenged and supported her needs and expertise.

I also conducted workshops on effective mentoring and perceptual awareness of one’s communication and behaviors. I further coached the people who have delegated the different pieces of this organizational re-structure.

Specific Exponent Leadership sections used:

Goal Setting and Time Span
Decision Making
Planning and Creating a Future
Team Problem Solving
Time Span and Hiring Talent
Bringing out the Best in People

Each person participating in the various initiatives was granted access to the private Exponent website. They completed the content sections and were required to write up a field assignment. The field assignment included what they did, how they did it, what they learned, and their specific applications for the future. In addition to posting their field assignments, each person must review all the others’ reports, commenting and questioning their results and application. This created a best practice and information-sharing capacity within the organization.


After the Exponent Coaching Relationship with Sharon:

Interviews and observations showed increased collaboration amongst the various departments and age groups of the agency. The younger staff felt heard and respected, and the mature staff felt proud to share their experience and learn new techniques and ideas.

Sharon identified five possible candidates for succession for management staff that was approaching retirement. She partnered the potential staff with successful mentors and managers to evaluate when they will have to capacity to fill the roles. The Leadership University Curriculum was completed, and the first class had begun.

Several new and innovative ideas were in the implementation process, including an entirely paperless office process, on-line intake and FAQs for people served by the agency, and new programs and agency offerings focusing on the vocational needs of their client population.

Sharon was feeling confident and had more time to be seen as an ambassador in the community. 360 feedback for Sharon stated that she is calmer and more focused than ever. Younger staff members want to stay with the agency because they admire her, feel relevant, and feel they have a future agency.

People join companies and leave managers… Be the reason people stay with your company.