Shannon Alter Of Leaders Exceed On How To Navigate The Generational Differences That Are Disrupting Workplaces

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Be genuine and authentic. Today’s professionals put a bigger emphasis on wellness, both physical and mental. It also pays to work on EQ, or emotional intelligence. Particularly important is having, cultivating and refining our self-awareness and understanding our emotions and the emotions of others around us.

Today’s workplaces are a melting pot of Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers. Each generation brings its unique perspective, work ethics, communication styles, and values. While this diversity can foster innovation and creativity, it can also lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and productivity challenges. How can businesses effectively bridge these generational gaps to create harmonious and thriving work environments? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Shannon Alter.

Shannon Alter, CPM ® works with organizations that want to communicate with clarity so they can gain influence in their market, build better relationships and grow their business. She has over 30 years of experience in commercial and retail real estate management and hospitality. Her programs have been used throughout the United States and internationally by organizations of all sizes.

Shannon is a National Instructor for the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM®), and the American Management Association (AMA) and has trained professionals in 10 countries. She has held the volunteer position of RVP for IREM and is a Past President of IREM Orange County.

Her 3rd book, “Be Influential: Surefire Ways to Improve Your Presentation Skills” was published in Summer 2023. She is the author of two earlier books, leadership white papers and numerous industry articles, including a long-time industry column.

She is a graduate of the University of Southern California.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about succession, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Sometimes career twists point us in a great new direction. I graduated from USC armed with a degree in Theatre and ready to roll — until my dad suggested I find a job that actually paid! My career has included work for a prominent hotel company, shopping center developers, an anchor grocery tenant and a 1031 exchange syndicator, so it has been diverse to say the least!

I now train and consult with organizations and professionals on how they can communicate more clearly in any conversation, presentation or meeting. This has also given me a diversified viewpoint as I’ve been able to see different parts of the industry, different companies and different cultures. This has been an unexpected benefit in my own business, as I’ve had the opportunity to gain a variety of perspectives that I can share with my clients.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

My clients feel that I am relatable and can work with their teams to help them discover and pull out the strengths they already have.

For example, one of my clients asked me to work “a little magic” by coaching one of his team members who was up for a promotion.

We worked together weekly to help this team member learn new skills, refine those he already had and apply them in real-time situations. At the end of our time together my client said he knew the employee had the talent within, but he needed me to help draw it out, which I was able to achieve through our work together. An external pair of eyes can be very powerful in these situations.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Persistence and the ability to be both flexible and poised are character traits that have made a difference throughout my career.


An early career experience made all the difference in how I prepare today (and can help you too). When I was 21, I graduated from the University of Southern California armed with a theater degree. I walked into what was then known as a personnel agency to see what they had to offer me. Immediately, I was handed a checklist that listed 15 different types of office equipment. My task was to tick off the ones I could operate proficiently. I couldn’t tick anything off the list as my best skills weren’t even on the list! It would seem that being able to use office equipment was more important than brain power, creativity or the ability to lead.

I handed the checklist over and was quickly ushered to the door. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re nothing but another pretty face. You’ll never amount to anything.” I mustered all the confidence my 21-year old self could deliver, looked right back at her and replied, “watch me!”

It taught me the value of knowing your worth and standing up for yourself in any kind of business situation.

Ability to pivot and be poised:

These attributes are intertwined because if you’re flexible and able to pivot in any conversation or presentation, you’ll be poised and confident.

I’ve been fortunate to speak, facilitate and teach in person and virtually hundreds of times, both in the U.S. and internationally. Each client, each location and each culture is different and flexibility and adaptability are key.

I discovered quickly that it’s often necessary to switch gears just as quickly because stuff happens! The tech goes sideways, your counterpart doesn’t show up, there’s a disruption in the room — anything you can imagine will most likely happen! There’s a silver lining here too: all of this allowed me to let go of worrying about achieving perfection every time. It takes effort to be effortless.

In your experience, what are the most distinct characteristics, values, and work preferences of each generation currently present in the workplace?

The key here is to not automatically assume that we know what people want. Today’s leaders, both experienced and newer, want genuine, authentic communication. Young professionals also crave guidance, mentorship and all of those soft skills older generations may have put on the back burner.

I work with the Center for Real Estate at California State University Fullerton (CSUF) and we help the students by bringing in industry speakers.

A recent speaker asked the students how many of them do NOT want to go back to the office. No one raised their hand. All of the Gen-Zers at this session actually wanted to be back in an office. They want guidance and they want to hear & see other leaders.

It’s no surprise that there are some caveats to this: they prefer not to be in an office every day, they want to be included in meetings with other departments or clients and again, they crave professional development.

The challenge here is that many Gen-X and Boomer leaders do want people to be in the office because the in-person, face-time is valuable and allows people to more readily connect. However, sometimes these leaders are reluctant to spend training dollars, so may focus only on the “hard” skills as younger leaders can pick up the soft skills by themselves.

What’s the solution? I believe the critical key is definitely clear, consistent communication. Whether you’re in the office or virtual, staying tuned in to your team, using those 1:1 conversations, helping people network internally and externally- all of these are key components to successful leadership.

Can you describe a specific instance where generational differences caused a significant challenge in the workplace? How was it addressed, and what lessons were learned?

I worked with a leader who had observed that her newer professionals (GenZ-ers in this case ) weren’t communicating in the way she wanted them to and didn’t seem to be as effective in their working relationships.

She shared that they were more likely to text other colleagues and even clients, vs. actually talking with them. This affected their ability to earn trust and to network, both internally and externally.

We worked together to create programs for her upcoming team leadership sessions which were designed to foster engagement between leaders of all generations. The sessions were highly interactive and included role plays, videos and even a “board game”.

The result was: they loved it! Our participants were able to be reminded of skills they already had, learn new ones and how to apply them and network at the same time. This leader also made a commitment to further help her teams by including a follow-up workshop and individual coaching where needed.

Technology adoption varies greatly between generations. How do you recommend companies bridge the tech-savviness gap without alienating any generational group?

In my experience the best way to bridge this gap is through mentorship. Today’s leaders know they have to work to develop those who will come after them, and we can do this by creating a true mentorship program. It’s important to recognize that mentorship is a two-way street and does not always have to be that a more seasoned executive mentors or leads a less experienced or younger professional. For example, a more tech-savvy leader can mentor or buddy with a less tech-savvy professional.

How can organizations create cross-generational mentorship programs that allow older and younger employees to learn from each other?

First, don’t assume. Often, we feel we ‘know’ what another generation wants or knows, or we suddenly feel the need to reinvent the wheel. For example, if you’re a Millennial who prefers conciseness, it doesn’t mean others don’t or won’t. It’s possible that connecting with a Gen-Xer or a Boomer who has the same mindset for brevity could be a great move.

Next, pair your mentors and mentees mindfully. Allocate the funds for development. Consider how you’ll set up your program in advance. Ask for input, ahead of time and along the way.

The key is to listen up and listen in and take advantage of the experience and wisdom other generations have to offer.

From face-to-face conversations to instant messaging, each generation has its communication preference. How can businesses foster “effective” communication that caters to these diverse preferences?

The first challenge is always to recognize that you need it! Organizations may feel that leaders at all levels will just figure out by themselves how to communicate and whether they need a mentor. The real issue is that often they don’t. If you truly want to level up your team’s professional skills, you have to provide the tools and the budget to do so.

In my new interactive program “Mindful Mentorship: How to Make a Lasting Impact” we discuss four clear steps you can take away to make your mentorship program successful across all generations.

How should training and development programs be tailored to cater to the unique learning styles and expectations of different generations?

It’s always critical to know your audience, whether large or small and understand how they learn best, this way you get to deliver the content in a way that will be understood and absorbed by each generation. As an example, my programs are highly interactive and allow participants to not only gain new knowledge, but also learn from other leaders and apply what they’ve learned in real-time.

In what ways can leaders ensure they’re being inclusive and not harboring unconscious biases towards one generation over another?

One of the best ways to be inclusive is to get people to talk: you want to hear them. Start by actually asking people what they need to feel included and discuss if any unconscious biases have ever come up in conversations, to understand how this made them feel and what can be done to avoid it happening again. The next phase is to actively listen to what they’ve said and consider whether changes should be made. These tactics show authenticity and self-awareness. They make people feel both heard and seen.

When I deliver client workshops on communication we use breakout sessions and activities as a way to “show” not “tell”. I ask a lot of questions, which always prompts discussion and there is a lot of note taking! The leader’s task is to listen to what people are really asking for and what the next steps may be. It can be too easy for experienced leaders to assume they know what their employees want but there’s no better way to find out how to be more inclusive than to truly listen.

As we look towards the future and the eventual integration of newer generations into the workforce, what strategies should businesses implement now to be prepared for even more diverse generational dynamics?

Listening to what leaders of every generation need is often the most underrated skill, yet it gives you all the answers you need. The key is to build relationships and trust with co-workers of all generations and maximize your resources.

Younger generations are often stereotyped as being entitled, difficult to manage and bad at taking criticism. They’re actually bringing new perspectives that could improve the way your business operates. Each generation has its own set of beliefs, values and experiences. The focus should be on collaborating and finding the best solutions and outcomes for the overall performance and growth of the business.

For all leaders, being flexible and open to learning new things is a positive step towards building an agile business.

Whatever generation you belong to as a leader, actively encouraging professional development is key for every organization. People often don’t, or won’t do this themselves, so it’s crucial for leaders to influence how self development is seen in their culture and to implement a clear plan to further develop talent within the workplace.

What are your “Five Things Leaders Need to Know About How to Navigate the Generational Differences that are Disrupting Workplaces”?

1 . Listen up! Try to actively listen to what your teams really want.

It’s essential to consider the long game. Contribution is key for team cohesion and company growth. When your employees feel like they’re being included in conversations and their ideas are being discussed and/or implemented, it keeps them motivated to do their best work. It improves their happiness, which boosts team morale and will build loyalty in the long-run.

2 . Be genuine and authentic. Today’s professionals put a bigger emphasis on wellness, both physical and mental. It also pays to work on EQ, or emotional intelligence. Particularly important is having, cultivating and refining our self-awareness and understanding our emotions and the emotions of others around us.

Sometimes this comes naturally, but often we need help to learn it. When I work with clients we practice it. When I work with clients, we rehearse the best ways to demonstrate our EQ, genuineness and transparency through small-group discussions and role play. This way leaders can see exactly how they can apply their new or refined skills on how to use emotional intelligence.

3 . Invite input. Asking questions is one of my favorite tactics. When you ask questions, you’ll almost inevitably find out more about what that person wants, thinks or needs. It gets them to talk, which is what you want. Being intentional about this is important as it helps engage those who are hesitant or feel overshadowed by bigger voices in the room. The best leaders are those who ask questions, listen to feedback and then implement necessary changes with the input of their team.

4 . Make the effort to get to know people on your team and others in your organization. It’s so important to get to know your team- be a human! When you do this, your employees feel valued because you have taken the time to get to know them vs. seeing every conversation as merely transactional. It also helps them to truly feel part of a team that’s working together collaboratively to drive the business forward.. Make time for 1:1 conversations, or invite everyone for pizza in the break room once a week.

5 . Foster inclusivity that’s truly inclusive. This is the first time since before the World War where we’ve had five different generations within the workplace. It can be a blessing and a curse and can often feel challenging or disruptive to keep everyone happy all of the time. A lot of emphasis around flexible or remote working is placed on Millennials and Gen Z, with a sense that they only want to work on their terms. Yet many Gen X, often referred to as ‘the sandwich generation’ are trying to hold down a full time job while also raising a family and looking after elderly relatives. For them, they’d welcome flexible working too, but for different reasons than the younger generations. Then there are the Boomers who have so much to offer an organization, but need to slow down as they’re not the young whippersnappers they once were. Flexible working, or even part-time hours could benefit them hugely, while still playing a pivotal role in the performance of the business.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Early on, one of my best mentors had many different sayings- so many that his team (including me) framed a few of them.

One of my favorites, which I still use today is “Do your homework”. I’ve shortened this to the acronym “DYH” and use it often with clients and in workshops. It’s even in my book “Be Influential” which was published last year.

To me this means preparation is key. Whether you’re preparing a recommendation for leadership, a business case for a client or getting ready for a presentation, DYH is an important key to being prepared and poised.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

For me, it’s about implementing small changes that have a huge impact and make a massive difference. It’s too easy to tell people to become active listeners and just expect them to know what to do. It’s a skill that needs to be mastered, which takes time and patience. It’s not going to change overnight! This is where coaching programs or mentorship programs can help to facilitate change and encourage longevity.

Many organizations see professional development and group or individual coaching as an expense that they either can’t afford, or don’t want to invest in. It’s true- this will likely cost both time and money to achieve your ROI. But consider this: what’s the cost to you if you don’t do it?

The goal is to create cohesion amongst the team so that individuals perform better, feel engaged and encouraged to do their best work collaboratively.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Don’t be afraid to talk with people! You never know what connections, relationships and great communication can come from just reaching out to someone else.

How can our readers further follow you online?

LinkedIn is my platform of choice, where you can connect with me, or follow my profile —

Alternatively, you can sign up to my weekly newsletter by visiting

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.