Common Purpose / 17 May 2022

Leaders from different generations have much to learn from one another, and it matters that they do

Why this collaboration brings mutual understanding and innovation for the complex, systemic problems we face today, for all generations.


Leadership development programmes are usually based on the premise that younger people learn from those who are older. There is a logic to this; older people have had more time to practice leadership. They have probably made more mistakes, and they may even have learned from them.

The problem, with the assumption that leadership lessons can only go one way (from older to younger people), is that the complex, systemic problems we are facing in the world today span the generations. The environmental crisis is a case in point. 

The impact of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss will profoundly affect the lives of young people and yet the decisions that will determine their future largely rest in the hands of the older generations. Of course, it has always been the case that older people have made decisions that impact the younger generations – the difference now, is the scale of the challenge and the lack of time.

More collaboration across the generations is badly needed if we are to find solutions to these huge and existential challenges.

Inter-generational collaboration brings not just mutual understanding but innovation and bolder environmental action. The importance of diverse perspectives to the process of innovation is well documented, and generational diversity is as important as diversity of thought, gender, sector, geography, or belief. 

For this collaboration to happen we need leadership development settings that create a 'level playing field'. Where people from different generations can come together and explore their different perspectives and experience. In organizations, younger leaders need to be supported to step up and take more responsibility. Experienced leaders must create space for the next generation, and in doing so, free themselves to take on their next challenge.

It is for this reason that the MAVA Foundation decided to invest in the development of an intergenerational leadership programme for its Partners. With Mowgli Mentoring and Common Purpose, they co-created the MAVA Leaders for Nature Academy. MAVA's decision was influenced by research in the conservation sector, including the work of young professionals from the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas.

This unique leadership development programme brings together senior and young professionals from the conservation and sustainability sectors. They apply together as intergenerational 'duos'. It includes both career stage specific activities, and structured ways of bringing the senior and young professionals together. This process develops their leadership skills and enables them to learn from one another. 

The impact on the participants was profound, and has resulted in greater personal impact, stronger relationships, more effective teams, shifts in organizational strategy and culture, and new cross sector partnerships. In all of these outcomes there is evidence that inter-generational learning and collaboration is at play.

As one of the participants put it:

"The surprise was that being 'young' or 'senior' has nothing to do with age. Many of the so-called young leaders in the Academy were experienced and wise. And some of the senior leaders had more energy and were more optimistic than their younger colleagues. We had to let go of the stereotypes from the first day".


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