As a middle market CEO, true leadership begins where your comfort zone ends. For many, this happens when dealing with younger generations. Exhibiting leadership qualities to take your midsize company to the next level is now a cross-generational issue.

Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) represent a huge segment of our population, and the Millennials or Gen Y (those born after 1981) represent an even larger segment, with their numbers now eclipsing those of boomers. For boomers, 75 is the new 65. We have a large existing workforce (boomers). We also have many people entering the workforce (millennials). 50- and 60-year-olds now work next to 20-somethings. 

Leadership Qualities

With the prevalence of this large age discrepancy, you must be ready to answer a fundamental question: Do you have what it takes to develop the younger generation into leaders? In order to succeed, you must focus on adaptability, change, and innovation. There is no better way to pull the future forward than to invest in and develop leadership qualities in those 20-somethings. Here's how:

  1. Determine how to unlock a young leader's potential.
  2. Integrate different generations and their respective belief systems.
  3. Ensure all voices are heard to reap the full benefits of "disruptive innovation."
  4. Assess your leadership team and make it multi-generational.

Far too many leaders still have an old-school mentality in which someone must "earn their stripes" or "pay their dues." This doesn't work. Instead of restricting development, focus instead on unlocking a young leader's passion and potential. You must always seek to be challenged by those who offer something new. Instead of complaining about the younger generation, try to develop a fluency in youth. Prioritize mentorship and development. Check your ego at the door. Worry less about being right and worry more about achieving the right outcome. This is not exclusively a top-down notion - the idea here is to achieve a balance.

Even with all this opportunity, most leaders have not figured out how to deal with the challenges of integrating different generations and their respective belief systems. And while many reap the benefits of turning friction into opportunity, most have not yet figured this out. Many leaders have generations competing with one another rather than learning from each other.

As a CEO, you must shed old habits and comfort zones to find the thing most useful to your company: disruptive innovation. Most leaders understand that innovation can propel a company forward, but according to a survey conducted by the National Center for the Middle Market, only 19 percent of service firms and 13 percent of manufacturers in the sample used involved more than half of their employees in innovation efforts. What's worse, more than a third of service firms and over 50 percent of manufacturing firms engage fewer than 10 percent of their workforce. In these cases, many useful ideas might not be heard, especially if the fresh thoughts of your young workforce are not actively nurtured. You must align the creative energy of the younger generation, and the experience of your more seasoned workers, with your organizational values and vision. As a leader, to discover innovation, you must deal with the changing demographic shifts in the workforce. It impacts everything - even the sustainability of your enterprise. As a middle market leader, if you do not get this right, you fail.

Here's a prime example: When I assess a new client's leadership team, it's the exception, not the rule, that youth has a seat at the table. It's not because they do not have young talent, it's because they do not know how to engage their younger talent. There's a communication disconnect.

This results in a disengaged leadership team. When it comes time for growth - when you need people with the leadership qualities to take you into new markets - you end up going outside the company, replacing the old old person with a new old person. As such, most companies are building in leadership obsolescence instead of actively recognizing and correcting the problem. And they're certainly not leveraging the hidden leadership qualities of their underutilized Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers.

Youth must be represented in your senior management and leadership teams. Give them a voice. Listen to them. You won't ever engage Gen Y - you won't unlock their creativity, passion, intelligence, and commitment - if you marginalize them. Nurture them instead. Failing to embrace this will restrict your access to opportunity.

Ask yourself again: Do you have the leadership qualities to develop the next generation? If you can't answer "yes," then you or your mid-sized company will likely be replaced in the market by someone who can.

Mike Myatt is an NCMM contributor and widely regarded as America's top CEO coach. He is currently the CEO at N2growth, one of the world's top leadership-development firms. Follow Mike on Twitter.