Delve podcast: What Can Boomers Learn About Leadership from Millennials and Gen Z? with Karl Moore and Dax Dasilva (Read Transcript)

Delve podcast, June 22, 2023: What Can Boomers Learn About Leadership from Millennials and Gen Z? with Karl Moore and Dax Dasilva
Karl Moore: What you want to do is let lots of ideas come from anywhere—anyone can be a strategist. Now the senior management job is not to have the good ideas, but to spot good ones and decide what they should resource and scale up. More ideas are coming from Generation Z’s and younger Millennials. But it’s still up to the Boomers and the Xers to decide where we’re going. And I think that combination together is a winner.
Dax Dasilva: I think one of the things that’s been consistent, and that actually plays really well to working with Millennials and Gen Zs is being able to listen across silos, across hierarchies, listen to the perspectives of people, that’s good for including people of different generations in the solution and engaging them. But it’s also a big part of why diversity and inclusion is successful at a business by active listening and by bringing people in. And so that’s something that we’ve always done well, and I think has made us successful with these new generations.
Robyn Fadden – host: What can older generations learn from Millennials and Gen Z about leadership, strategy, and dealing with crisis? And how can these younger generations unlock their professional potential by taking larger roles in organizational strategy and change? On this episode of the Delve podcast, Desautels Professor Karl Moore and Lightspeed and Age of Union Founder Dax Dasilva discuss communication beyond traditional hierarchies, the value of reverse mentorship and receiving feedback, and what real equality, diversity, and inclusion can look like in an organization. I’m your host for this episode, Robyn Fadden.
Robyn Fadden – host: In Karl Moore’s new book, Generation Why: How Boomers Can Lead and Learn from Millennials and Gen Z, he posits a philosophy that has played out in real life, writing that people over 45, with a university degree, were taught a modern worldview in their education. While people under 35 with a university degree were taught a postmodern worldview. He breaks down those two worldviews and how they differ, as well as the practical implications of how to engage, manage, and learn from people included in the Millennial and Generation Z generations.
Robyn Fadden – host: Delve put Karl Moore in conversation with Dax Dasilva to hear about the leadership experiences of the former Lightspeed CEO, now chair of the board, who founded his business as a young person and grew with its many changes over the years. As a management professor who also interviews CEOs on a regular basis, Moore was game to hear Dasilva’s point of view on his book. But first, let’s hear from Moore about why he decided to tackle this subject of generational worldviews in the first place.
Karl Moore: Something which is coming up increasingly in conversations with CEOs in a way that it didn’t 10-15 years ago, it has in the last five years. Now part of that is COVID, part of that is the Gen Zs and the younger Millennials are starting to get into managerial positions. And they’re clearly incredibly important to organizations, their young people. It’s probably about half or more of the organization. And Boomers are starting to retire. So something where they’re really important and there’s award for talent. And so this comes across increasingly in conversations with CEOs, and also in conversations with undergraduates. And I traveled with them. Dax and I were over in Ghana in the Cote d’Ivoire, about a month ago with 50 undergraduates and alumni. So I’m really aware of what young people are thinking about. I have coffee with all my students in groups of three or four and talk about their careers and their lives. It’s a matter that came from the top, the CEOs discussing this as a perplexing issue. And the young people just looking at the world so differently than the older people have in years gone by.
Robyn Fadden – host: It really speaks to how your book and management research in general is able to cross lines between academia and leadership experiences, and range across business sectors as well as academic disciplines. I mean, I know postmodern theory from literature and communications studies, for example. So, speaking of bringing another type of experience into this conversation, I’d like to ask Dax first about what generation he considers himself to be a part of.
Dax Dasilva: I’m very much Generation X.
Robyn Fadden – host: So Karl’s book is speaking to you as a leader, and one could argue that Gen X kind of has a foot in both the Boomer and Millennials worlds, being both and neither at the same time. How has your generational experience, in society and being in leadership positions, affected your approach to running an organization, whether that’s a large company or a nonprofit?
Dax Dasilva: If I think back to the early days of Lightspeed, circa 2005, I was 28, I think that at the time we were, we were excited to see just what we could do with the company and how big could we make it how many countries we could sell into. Today, we talk a lot more about Lightspeed about what we do for the community, what the meaning of what we do is. And that’s always been there. Lightspeed powers the local businesses, the local retailer, locally owned retailer, locally owned restaurant – that puts money back into the community, it’s investing in those local sustainable businesses. And so that resonates a lot more with employees than let’s just build the biggest company. And let’s see if we can take it public. It’s less about our success and more about the greater good that we’re doing for society. So that’s shifted in terms of how we think about the business, how we talk about the business, and why people join the business. They’re looking to join a rocket ship, everybody wants to be a part of something that’s an exciting ride. But they also want to know that they’re contributing through their work to a better to a better world, and I think that’s been a big a big shift.
Dax Dasilva: I think one of the things that’s been consistent, and that actually plays really well to working with Millennials and Gen Zs that we’ve always done from the very beginning is, it’s been accompanied based on listening, which I know Karl wrote a lot about in his book and about very flat structures, where were you? Well, you can have hierarchy in business, you have to be able to scale a business, but being able to listen across silos, across hierarchies, listen to the perspectives of people, that’s good for including people of different generations in the solution, engaging them. But it’s also a big part of why diversity and inclusion is successful at a business by active listening and by bringing people in. And so that’s something that we’ve always done well, and I think has made us successful with these new generations.
Robyn Fadden – host: It sounds like you’ve been living Karl’s book long before he put these ideas to paper.
Dax Dasilva: Yeah. It resonated with me because that’s the reality. And there’s so much to celebrate in these new generations, they’re very talented. And they think that there’s an adaptation that needs to happen from that, as Karl writes, the modern way of managing to something that truly gets the best out of out of these generations and helps them reach their potential within your organization.
Robyn Fadden – host: Karl, how does your discussion of these different generations and their modern and postmodern worldviews fit into your broader management research trajectory and into your previous insights on strategic management?
Karl Moore: Things I’ve been thinking about in my 25-30 year career, PhD and Prof at Oxford, now at McGill, for about 20 years or so, is rethinking old perspectives that no longer hold. It’s something that I think it’s important for a lot of professors to do, it’s one of the things that academics do in our better moments. This book came from reading about postmodern modern thought, philosophy—but realize that it’s around things like truth and knowledge, who has truth, who has knowledge, what is truth, kind of philosophical issues, but had very practical implications for leaders. So that’s where it came from, as one challenging the views of the day, as well as thinking philosophically about how the world is viewed by ourselves and how we think differently. I do a biweekly column for the Globe & Mail with an indigenous colleague, where we look at indigenous leaders and say, actually, there’s some great leaders there, and they have things to teach us in today’s world. Also, writing a book about introverts, ambiverts, and experts – the traditional view that all leaders are extroverts. And in fact, my research suggests probably of senior leaders about 40% are introverts. 40% are extroverts about 20% are ambiverts. So part of my career has been just challenging the views of the day and rethinking it a bit.
Robyn Fadden – host: Workplaces are typically multi generational, perhaps more now than ever, since people are putting off retirement. How are Millennials and Gen Z changing ideas about how to manage people in a business or another organizational setting? How are they changing how management looks on an everyday scale?
Karl Moore: Well, partly it’s to Dax’s point that they’re looking for purpose. They’re looking for social impact they’re looking for, what are you doing about EDI, so that pressure from, you know, the front line of the organization is there and it may surprise some of the older people, but c’est la vie you’re gonna get with the program. So that’s one element, that they’re changing what we’re looking for, and it’s no longer just about share price. It’s about stakeholder value. And that’s not just empty rhetoric. I hear it from more and more CEOs and I see actions, where it’s actually occurring. I think part of it is when we think about strategy, there’s two big schools of strategy. One is Michael Porter at Harvard, and then my colleague, Henry Mintzberg, here at McGill. So emergent versus deliberate strategy. Michael’s approach is more top down and the CEO the C suite maybe with McKinsey or BCG is going to make the decisions and look the way forward. And that works still sometimes, but increasingly, from talking to CEOs about how they do strategy, the emergent approach is saying we’ve got to listen to the frontline troops, the people that are in the turbulent environment—because if you if you’re at a company, that’s in a turbulent environment, you’ve got to adjust how you organize and what you do more rapidly than in the past. That means the frontline troops people’s one foot inside the business one foot in the turbulent environment have got to be listened to.
Karl Moore: So what you want to do is let lots of ideas come from anywhere—anyone can be a strategist. Now the senior management job is not to have the good ideas, but to spot good ones and decide what they should resource and scale up. So senior management has a very important role. We hold them responsible, they have the experience and the position hopefully to do this, and I think they generally do. But it’s more ideas are coming from Generation Zs and younger Millennials. But it’s still up to the boomers and the Xers to decide where we’re going. And I think that combination together is a winner. But it means that the older people have got to spend more time listening, and be reverse-mentored than they were in the past. So it’s a change that’s occurred over the last 10-15 years in my experience.
Dax Dasilva: I think what I would add to that is that the greatest outcome that you can have from listening, that Karl was talking about, is that distributed sense of shared ownership, if everybody feels like they were listened to, and that they’re owners of the strategy, they’re owners of the organization’s direction, that even if a leader makes a different decision, but people feel like they were heard, and people feel like, even if they were disagreed with the ultimate decision that they were communicated to about why the decision was taken, and what all of these options were weighed, then I think you have an organization that is not complaining about what senior management is doing, but everybody is aligned. And everybody’s working together for the greater success no matter what the decision is. And so I think that there’s ways to bring together an organization through some of these techniques. And it really leveraged the way that that these hierarchical but nonhierarchically strategized organizations are being built now.
Robyn Fadden – host: One of those techniques would be managing upward and another would be reverse mentoring, both of which Karl writes about. Could both of you talk about the phenomenon of managing upward and your experiences of it. Is it something that should be more embedded within an organization?
Karl Moore: In my long career, I’ve always had a boss, I still have a boss now. And I manage upward, in the nicest possible way, and I don’t think they hopefully won’t take umbrage at that idea. But I would be sending them information, making requests, so that I recognize they have authority, and they have relationships, they have resources that I want to tap into. So I’m going to spend time thinking about how do I approach them? What information do I provide. So even at my age, as a Boomer, I’m still managing upward. And I think I will, for years to come. So it’s something where it’s, it’s a long time process for me. Now, Dax has got to manage open census it he’s the chairman of the board, he still has the board. He still has Wall Street to worry about and customers so I think it’s a long term perspective, but it’s always been part of my life, period.
Dax Dasilva: I think as the CEO and the founder of both Lightspeed and Age of Union, I have to be conscious that I am being managed upward from folks, and I need to allow that to happen because these folks are trying to help me build something better, ultimately. I think that they have the organization’s intentions. So I need to understand that the community, that some of these folks that grew up in the digital age – I grew up in the information age where things were digitizing – so I’m used to that wholesale change. We’re going through a wholesale change in how people communicate, new approaches to communication. And if they’re trying to bring me in on some of what’s going to work today, then I need to be receptive to that, I need to open the door to be managed upwards, I need to feel that the people need to feel that I’m going to be aware and reflect on what they’re saying and incorporate it. That’s when I think you get this value of being an authentic leader to people – because not only are you transparent, but you are also receptive, and that it’s not a waste of time for them to try to improve the organization by talking to you.
Robyn Fadden – host: It’s interesting, because on the surface, it seems like it’s a sharing of power, or there’s a sense that power is approached differently. Of course, executive still ultimately holds the decision-making power. How does the tool of reverse mentoring come into play in a hierarchical organization setting?
Karl Moore: When I talk to my undergrads, I say, 30% of the time you’re mentoring me. I have a couple of senior mentors in their 80s, it would not generally occur to them to ask my advice. Mentoring in one way is kind of a traditional view of mentoring. Whereas I have what I used to call a politically correct counsel, and now is a woke counsel. And what I mean by woke is just showing respect for people we didn’t show sufficient respect in the past. So I wrote an article for my Forbes blog, and I sent it to, four or five people to just ask am I saying anything inappropriate here? Am I offending someone by saying something that an older white man might say without thought? What they do is they keep me more in touch with today’s world and make my language better, I still fall short, make mistakes, but I’m better than I was a few years ago without tapping into young people and a sense of what’s happening in today’s world. But it’s a back and forth that doesn’t exist with the people who mentored me for years now.
Dax Dasilva: I’ll give you a great example of how one thread event has developed at Age of Union, which is my conservation alliance. So you have this discussion about how to engage audiences with video and so on, on different channels, there’s Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube. And of course, as I’m mentoring some of these folks that are up and coming in our content and editorial in immediate themes, I’m absorbing all of how they are consuming media, how they’re consuming news, how they’re consuming entertainment. And, as we’ve adapted and learned from some of our earlier short documentaries, I realized that we’re going to need to do some short-form formats. I’ve learned from them, but also, as that has happened, put them in charge of coming up with what is that format going to be? And then I said to them, okay, you read the strategy, right? Let’ do it interactively, I’ll take presentations with you and we’ll develop the strategy, I’ll give you my feedback on it – but you’re now owning the strategy. So reverse mentorship has turned into them building the strategy, into them owning the strategy. And I’m, of course, instrumental in having some of the pieces come together for it. But now now it’s less than me taking some tidbits and turning into something, and more giving them sort of the wings to really take it on. And actually, the empowerment to take it on, let what they know shine. But beyond what they know, let them experiment in whole new ways, and test what they know. That I think is hopefully the outcome that this reverse mentoring can have, the impact it can have on an organization, and just allow new innovation to happen.
Robyn Fadden – host: It’s more than lip service, it’s more than a jargony term or trend. It’s like you’re actually creating action out of it. I’d like to move into the question of how different generations deal with crisis today. We’ve had crises before the COVID 19 pandemic, but the pandemic did change the way that people work, and shifted worker and manager expectations, especially for millennials. Millennials were reaching new career heights, and Gen Z was embarking on their careers. There are different outcomes of each crisis, whether global or in a business – and there’s something different to learn from each crisis. What can Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Z, learn from each other about crisis situations and how to handle a new crises?
Karl Moore: It’s something where we learned a lot about management. And I asked CEOs in the early days of pandemic, the first year, is what did you learn from about leadership? One of the things is working from home – and today we’re working two or three days a week, most people from home and if you have small kids or you have a commute of an hour and a half each way—this totally makes sense. But part of the problem is that if you’re not at work, how do I pass on culture? How do I teach you because we go to a meeting and afterwards I walk and say, that was great, Robyn, but you might have done this. But it’s, you know, just a short conversation, I nudge you, and you can disagree with it. But it’s that passing on our culture and how to do our jobs well, that I’m missing. So it just struck me as that we’ve got to rethink how do we lead? How do we teach? How do we in culture aid in this new world. And from talking about your CEOs, they’re thinking about this, and things are starting to emerge, but it’s still somewhat early days, and work is evolving.
Robyn Fadden – host: There’s usually some kind of deflation after crisis happens, because you’re scrambling to address the crisis and things have to be reorganized or rebuilt, whether it’s done in a panic or whether it’s done with slightly more planning. But we’re at a point where we’re talking about intergenerational responses to crisis rather than only top-down responses to crisis. How can we lean on all the generations at once to address not only crises but other workplace stresses and imbalances?
Dax Dasilva: We all have different cultural contexts, different historical contexts. And so I think there’s different types of resilience, and different types of, if you want to say trauma, or different types of stresses that the generations have had. As Karl was speaking to this shift in terms of, how do we balance work in life? [In terms of] post-COVID crisis? And I think that part of the discussion we had earlier about meaning and purpose, also translates to: how do I have meaning and purpose across my work? And my life? What’s the balance of that? I may believe in what my company is doing, I’ve joined them for this purpose, but do I have the time and the flexibility to have meaning and purpose in my own life? Am I able to have these things coexist? I struggle with this idea that we are going to have empty offices, because it’s so important to innovation to have people gather, people exchange. And so it’s going to be interesting. Over the next couple of years, I’ve seen all the incentives that we’ve brought together with Lightspeed to have people in the office and there’s more than ever people back, and the energy is incredible. But with Age of Union, it’s very distributed. People are doing things all over the world as we’re doing conservation. And so that’s very remote. So it’s going to be interesting to see the outcome of this particular crisis and how the redefinition of work – what in the long term really improves our game as a work society and in what ways and what things we might just lose, maybe for good in some industries.
Robyn Fadden – host: It will be interesting to see how much employees continue to be listened to about their preferences or whether some companies will revert to business as usual. I mention this because we were talking about listening to younger generations who aren’t yet in leadership positions. Karl, your book offers theories and perspectives on these generations and management, but it also provides actual tools for leading and managing. Could you outline one or two of these tools such as how to provide feedback? We talked a little bit about reverse mentoring as a tool already.
Karl Moore: Feedback is something where, when I worked at IBM a manager spent 5% of the time when I was a manager thinking but what do I say to Dax, after the meeting to mentor him, assuming he was junior, and it’s something where today, young people are really looking for much more feedback, probably because of video games. They get a lot of feedback. They get feedback from the educational system more. So something with that they get more feedback and they expect their managers to give them feedback. And from my viewpoint, they want to learn they want to grow. But instead of 5% of a meeting, maybe 10 or 15% of the meeting, I’m thinking, What do I say to Robyn and Dax after the meeting, because they’re looking to me for wisdom on how to improve, and I love that attitude. But I’d have to change spend a bit more time thinking about it.
Dax Dasilva: I think that this idea of having also just one mentor, and I think Karl touched on this really, really nicely in his book, there should be multiple people offering a new young leader in an organization feedback. And as I’ve seen some really talented young people just come up through the ranks and want to be seen as senior. And of course, I’ve seen very senior executives at Lightspeed. So I’m like, Okay, I know you’re not there yet but you have so much potential. But is it only my feedback alone that’s going to get you there? And I realized that what Karl said in his book is very true: you need to have multiple folks with different perspectives on being able to offer mentorship to some of these young people. And that I think gives them a different perspective. Because part of that mentorship is like, how do you handle Dax? You know, how do you manage him as he’s helping you grow as a leader. And so all of that rounded perspective, I think, gives that person that broader support system that they’re going to need to actually reach their full potential as a leader.
Robyn Fadden – host: Looking at leadership potential, could you both share your insights about the future of leadership that may emerge from these younger generations and the way that they, hopefully, as in Karl’s book, are being managed differently today and in the near future?
Karl Moore: Well, I think, a central one is purpose, its purpose of the organization. It’s the organization is helping people that we’ve neglected in the past that’s helping indigenous people, women, people of colour, disabilities, and so on, where we’re trying to have some nobility beyond just making money. And I have this conversation in class with my undergraduates. And one or two of the undergraduates go no, it’s the Samuelson view of the world that a purpose of business is to make money. And that’s it. But I think that’s a view that is not widely held by this generation. And we want to do something beyond just doing money making stuff. And also at work, I want to be treated like a human being, I want to be respected. I wanted people encourage me. I hear more and more about mental health, from my neighbours, and from my students, everybody since a pandemic. I think we wrestled with these things; we just didn’t talk about them as much in the past. Where students are more coming to me and why they didn’t five years ago and saying, Can I get a break here because I’m wrestling with something. And I think we’re much more open to having real conversations, and genuinely caring for people and having a bit of in the best sense of the word, some love in the workplace of genuine concern and care for one another and caring for your neighbour. Beyond just seeing them as a unit of work. I’m a human being not a human resource.
Robyn Fadden – host: Dax, you alluded to very similar ideas. What are your insights on the future of leadership regarding not only these younger generations, but genuine empathy and humanity at work?
Dax Dasilva: We’ve talked a lot about meaning and purpose. One of the credos at Lightspeed is “make it matter,” the things that you do in your day, do they matter. And I think that the next generation of leaders if it mattered to them, that all of their daily actions and things that they were doing weren’t meaningless, didn’t contribute to something better, that it was always well-communicated, that they build that ethos into how they design work for the people that come to work for them, then I think the workplace is going to be full of purpose and will attract talent. And I think that that’s the real promise of this generation as they become the next generation of leaders.
Robyn Fadden – host: Related to this conversation in more holistic way of looking at leadership and management, and you’ve alluded to this already, is the question of how digital technology has affected younger generations and how it has changed work. Since Gen Z and Millennials have grown up with digital tech technologies, do you see them integrating new tech like AI more into the general ecology of an organization, integrating data driven strategies and technologies into how they lead and manage rather than simply tools to get work done.
Karl Moore: I think absolutely they love technology, they grew up with it. We even have digital natives – my youngest students just don’t know a world before Google and things like that. So I think they’re just going to adopt it. I just did an interview for television on only one pilot on a plane. And I said, maybe just AI flying the plane someday? I think older people are going to be very nervous about that. I think younger people are going to be more relaxed about AI in its place. And this is an important issue – there’s ethical sides to AI but I think younger people are going to just get on with it and say, look guys, stop fighting it, you older people. And I think that may be overstated. I’m glad we’re here in a bit of a break, but they’re going to adopt technology very wholesalely.
Dax Dasilva: I think there’s going to be a continuous redefinition of how people can contribute in high value ways as technology takes over some of the work efforts that are going to be more and more considered low value, repetitive or just things that can be taken on by AI and other means. So there will be continual redefinitions of work and what it means to contribute. And I think that that’s been no different from the past 50 years. So I think it’s accelerating. And it’s exciting, you know, our parents don’t really understand our job titles and that continues with every generation, because every new generation has job titles that are just completely different, especially as technology accelerates. And it’s going to be no different as we go from Gen X to Millennials, Gen Z to Alphas. It will continue to march on.
Robyn Fadden – host: Absolutely, especially as you said, acceleration of the technology, acceleration of what AI can do has already created different kinds of jobs, as technology has done throughout the course of history. Thank you both for your insights and for talking with me on the Delve podcast. It’s been a fascinating conversation.
Karl Moore: My pleasure.
Dax Dasilva: Thanks so much.
Robyn Fadden – host: Our guests today on the Delve podcast were Desautels Professor Karl Moore and Lightspeed and Age of Union Founder Dax Dasilva, discussing how to work with different generations and how older generations can learn from younger ones to establish not only successful organizations but organizations that uphold purpose and meaning in work as well as equity, diversity, and inclusion principles. You can find out more about Karl Moore’s book, Generation Why, on
Robyn Fadden – host: Thank you for listening to the Delve podcast, produced by Delve, the thought leadership platform of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University. You can follow DelveMcGill on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Subscribe to the DelveMcGill podcast on your favourite podcasting app. And subscribe to Delve’s email list by going to