Respect Isn’t Just for your Elders

Posted by Trevor on 12 December 2012 | 2 Comments

There was a time when seniority was important, but in today’s work force, the situation is more complicated.

According to people who like to compartmentalize things and stick labels on everything, they see, in contemporary American society there are five distinctive age cohorts; Traditionalists, Baby Boomers (apparently I am one of those), Generation X, Millennials, and the iGeneration. With the exception of the iGeneration (born after 2000), the other four generations can all be present at various levels in the contemporary workplace. According to human resource professionals whose jobs depend on everyone playing nicely together, that can present challenges especially when it comes to how each handles authority.

They tell me that groups view authority very differently. Traditionalists are generally respectful to people in positions of authority. Baby Boomers respect authority if they are in charge, but tend to undermine those in authority positions. Generation X people are generally unimpressed with those in authority positions while Millennials tend to be confrontational.

I don’t buy into any of it. I have been respectful of authority when it was deserved, undermined it when necessary, been generally unimpressed with some bosses in my regular career, and have definitely been confrontational at times. So what am I?

I have always believed that respect is earned, and not granted.  Bottom line is: either way, it doesn’t matter, because age makes no difference in how well you do your job. I have worked for brilliant and hopeless traditionalists. I have sold a company to a member of generation X who I felt was far more capable of taking it to the next level. I have hired Millenials whose energy and enthusiasm gave the rest of the team a boost.

It comes down to what is inside of you, particularly in relation to your integrity and personal power. If you are in control of your own mentality, there should be no reason why age should impact your performance. It also doesn’t ever matter if your boss is older or younger. All that matters is how well you perform where you are now.

One time I was a young baby boomer (whatever that is) who found himself leading a sales team of traditionalists. To add to the challenge I have always had a bit of a baby face (something I am finally grateful for). I am sure this mattered to everyone in my team, but I never gave it a thought. It didn’t matter that I looked like an embryo in comparison to all those I worked with, because I never questioned my ability for one second, and I didn’t expect anyone else to. I had control of my mentality, that critical first step in Three Simple Steps. I simply did my job to the best of my ability.

A similar situation occurred when I was in the Navy. I was the youngest divisional sub-lieutenant in college history, and I found myself in charge of hardened career-Navy personnel. I may have been a kid in a uniform, but it made no difference, because respect is earned through doing a good job and helping others succeed as well. It is only when your ego or insecurity gets in the way that a difficult working environment is created. Once they started to enjoy increased performance and the rewards that came with it, they stopped caring about my age. When we won the annual prize for best division it was the last thing on anyone’s mind.

The age cohort thing is all in people’s heads. There has been a lot of articles and opinion pieces written recently about how to communicate between generations, but it‘s all nonsense. Treat everyone how you would like to be treated, and you’ll get along with everyone.

Don’t concern yourself with age, because more often than not, people are going to be concerned most with whether or not you are doing a good job. Respect is earned through achievement, not age.


  1. Coral Levang says:

    Each generation may have experiences that color the view of the world, but no one is relegated to “group think.” Those of us who have stood up and asked, “Why?” haven’t always been the most revered, in or out of the military, I might add! (And I’ve seen both.)

    I am ecstatically grateful today that I’ve learned how to be true to my unique self, and continue to receive the gift of challenge to my resolve and allowing “life to fill in the details.”

    This speaks to having respect for oneself first. I think this is true when it comes to living with intentions, Trevor. When one does so, it clearly shows respect for self, and others alike.

    Thanks for your post on respect yesterday. It’s a great reminder.


    “Respect yourself and others will respect you.” (Confucius)

  2. I love this, Trevor. It’s such a great return to common sense. Why do we continually make things far more complicated than they need be? Belief in ourselves, teachability and integrity win hands down every time.

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