A Boomer & Millennial

Dad looked a little different at the office this past Wednesday. He had traded in his sterile white coat for a warm jacket with a silky sheen. He had swapped out his gray scrubs for a frothy pink dress-shirt and a wavy, oversized bowtie. He even had something on top of his head- bald joke not intended. Needless to say, Dad had gone mad! Never in his thirty-six years of practice, would Dad think his team would be treating patients dressed in Disney costumes. However, always the life of the party, the birthday Baby Boomer listened to his team of Millennials and had one of the most memorable days of his illustrious career. And, while you like your fair share of tricks, you are certainly a treat to work with. Happy Halloween and Happy 62nd Birthday Dr. George Sr! 

I’m no human Google, but I can think of no greater buzzword, except for maybe “selfie," than “Millennial.”  It's a word that surprisingly elicits a polarized, emotional response for the majority of individuals and I believe it has developed an increasingly negative connotation over the years. As an illustration for Ohioans, someone saying the phrase "The Millennials," parallels a non-Buckeye saying "The Ohio State University." Pride is absent in their voice, while sarcasm and slander fly high. Consequently, for many older generations, Millennials are seen has the Hindenburg- released to soar, doomed to burst.

In March of 2015, I was coming down the home stretch of my first year of residency and was attending a dental leadership conference with George Sr. We were starting to really get into the meat of working together and hashing out what kind of partnership we envisioned. However, we were butting heads a lot and I chalked it up to our stubborn Lebanese personalities. For every step forward, it felt like we were taking two steps back. Looking back, it's not an understatement to say the leadership weekend was a monumental step forward for our partnership.

Our speaker was Mr. Chuck Underwood, a pioneer in the field of generational dynamics and author of The Generational Imperative and America's Generations. Chuck defined and characterized the five generations: GI, Silent, Baby Boomer, Gen-X and Millennial. With these in mind, I took the room in- it was chock-full of Baby Boomers with a sprinkle of Gen-Xer's and Millennials. Mr Underwood, himself a Baby-Boomer, finished his intro with “our future rests in the decisions of Millennials.” At this controversial statement, I once again took the room in. I vividly remember seeing a plethora of ghost-stricken faces!

As Chuck began to describe Millennials, I began to see lips curl across the room as the negative labels of my generation came up. Millennials were described as “entitled, cocky, soft, immature, narcissists, consumed by technology, unable to communicate, embossed with unrealistic expectations, living off instant answers and gratification.” 

Fortunately, Chuck went on to describe his detailed research of my generation.  The first Millennials were born in 1982 and our core values were largely shaped by 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and The Great Recession.  We are the largest generation, recently surpassing the Baby Boomers at over 83 million.  We are a generation that is innovative, tech-savvy, compassionate, patriotic and empowered.  We see our parents as close friends and confidants.  We are group-oriented, driven by education and career, compelled to serve the community, who multi-task, and desire responsibility, structure, social interaction, equality and freedom.  Consequently, Chuck concluded that Millennials’ guiding principle is to “become part of something bigger than themselves.”  You could hear a pin drop;  Chuck had just described a modern era of Baby Boomers.  

Dad and I realized our generations are eerily similar: the largest generations ever, social activists, opportunists, dreamers, hard workers, and those who live life to the fullest.  Albeit, we are immense competitors, passionate, stubborn, and quick to conclusion. Beginning to understand our relevant generational differences launched a paradigm shift in our communication. Dad became a better listener and was more open to new ideas, collaborative leadership, analytics, a changing business model, and increasing work-life balance. I also became a better listener, saw value in historical perspectives, realized different patient generations have different values, wants and needs, thought outside the box without reinventing the wheel, and truly appreciated what thirty plus years of hard work and dedication could bring to your patients, your personal life, and the community you serve.

Since that conference, many things have changed. For my wife, she believes I have a future in Progressive Insurance's "turning into your dad" commercial series. However, while that's probably true for some of my mannerisms, we still have different leadership styles, personalities, and beliefs. Yet, by unlocking and understanding our generational differences, our communication has never been better. So I challenge you- will we buy into the negative generalizations and fall with our stereotypes or will we witness an unprecedented era of success in an unprecedented era of challenges, driven by transgenerational understanding, cooperation and mentorship?  Who better to show the Millennials how to boom!

Dr. George R. Williams is a general dentist at Williams Family Dental Group in Canton, Ohio. He is a graduate of The Ohio State University College of Dentistry and Canton Mercy Medical Center General Practice Residency.  For questions or suggestions for blog posts, please feel free to contact him at drgrw@williamsdentalgroup.com



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