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Tigard man leads talk on the new greatest generation

by: Submitted Stephan Belding

Move over Tom Brokaw, one Tigard resident says he knows who the 'greatest generation' is, and it's today's youth and young adults.

Stephan Belding, who teaches business management at University of Phoenix's Tigard campus, has spent years studying generational change and the differences between generations.

Belding recently held a roundtable discussion with educators and scholars at the 13th annual International Leadership Association Global Conference in London last month.

'The whole premise is that the generational differences operate in cycles,' Belding said. 'What we've seen occur in past cycles occurs time and time again. My whole idea is that we are in this time of civic crisis right now, and it's very similar to what happened during the Great Depression and the Civil War.'

The roundtable, which focused on how Baby Boomers can work together with the so-called 'Millennial' generation - people born from the mid-1980s to today - revealed what Belding had suspected all along.

'Baby Boomers as a generation tend to be inner focused,' Belding said. 'We are first concerned about what is best for ourselves and then concerned about what is best for society and the community and our friends. The opposite of that is true for the Millennials who tend to be concerned first about their friends and community and society and then concerned about themselves.'

It's an important distinction, Belding said, because as more and more young people enter the workforce, they will have to work with older generations and that can create conflict in the workplace.

'The roundtable provided an opportunity for the Boomer and Millennial generations to have a conversation about how we can work together to mutually benefit our communities,' Belding said. 'If we can work together and overcome generational differences, it will provide tremendous benefits for generations to come.'

Those generational differences can be quite an obstacle, though, Belding said.

'As Baby Boomers, we are so focused on the idea that 'This is the way I was taught and motivated back when I was 20 or 25 so that's how I will do it with these Millennials,' but we need to get away from that mindset. We need to start communicating with Millennials to find out what motivates them in different ways and adapt our skills to what motivates them.'

It's a tactic that goes beyond the workplace, Belding said. This idea has implications in education and any other areas where Millennials and older generations interact with each other.

'It can be difficult for Baby Boomers to get beyond our own mindset and embrace what the Millennial generation has to offer,' Belding said. 'This is a period of what has been termed a civic crisis, and it's not something that can resolve itself overnight.'

Belding said that today's young people are still in their formative years, but that they have the potential to become a great generation that will be looked up to in time.

'The Millennials are part of this civic generation in the same cycle as the greatest generation of the 20th century, those who grew up during the Great Depression and then served in World War II,' Belding said. 'These people are going to become the 21st century's greatest generation in time and Boomers have a problem getting their arms around that. I truly believe that everything I've seen and all the research I've done points to this is going to be very dynamic and great generation. And talking to some Millennials, they are beginning to see it, too.'