Sam & Kris: Intergenerational Partnership

By Sam Clayton & Kris Schaeffer

Sam Clayton, an Emerging Leader, and Kris Schaeffer, an Experienced Leader, first met at a Berrett-Koehler Foundation (BKF) workshop on Intergenerational Communications. The workshop’s goal – participants will find one person in another generation to work with. Together they select a project – from either partner – and then, while completing it, also observe how they worked together, worked out their differences, and share the experience.

Here are BKF’s steps in the Partnership Process and what Sam and I learned about working across generations.

“I bet you run with a lot of young people,” Sam said to me. “What a compliment! I may just not retire,” I replied. Sam and I were debriefing our first four months of working together and some of the key lessons we learned.

Matching / Pairing

Finding a partner takes a mix of luck and skill. The workshop was designed to match people up using a form of intergenerational speed dating. But speed dating gives you only a brief glance at a face and a business card. We didn’t have much time to explore our interests, our projects, our expertise.  There was just enough time to make an initial impression – Sam’s British accent; my name tag that said “Mindfulness.”  So we scheduled a longer meeting to see if we were a match.

Sam: “At the BK workshop, I gathered several names of potential partners and had already met with some of them before I met with you. I really didn’t know what you had to offer and how you would fit into my project.” 

Kris: “Aha! That explains why you were making me prove myself. You were asking some pretty tough questions.” 

Sam: “I had already rejected one coach who didn’t have the skill set that I needed. The situation felt somewhat unpleasant so I didn’t want to have another experience like that. I guess I made you prove that you were self-secure. And you are.”

Kris: “That’s learned from a lifetime of being a female consultant in some very male organizations. Some clients behave like truck drivers in suits.”

Sam: “Clearly you are a badass.” 

Kris: “You flatter me too much.”

Tip: Not all coaches are the right fit. Search until you have an appropriate match.

Tip: A good match may be either someone who has the content experience or who is a personality fit. A great match is when the partner has both.

Getting to Know You

To find a partner, go deep. What does the person value? What sparks joy? What they are excited about? We had more time in our first meeting to learn about each other. We talked about the work we were doing, found our common interest, and chose which project to work on.

Sam: “I began to see a connection when you told me about your project – writing about using mindfulness on your healing journey.” 

Kris: “While I was enrolled in a year-long mindfulness program for social change agents, I was injured. Mindfulness kept me sane during all the grueling physical therapy.” 

Sam: “You are involved in social action and spirituality. That’s not only key values for us Millennials, but also they are two of the elements of the future model I was working on. We were very aligned.” 

Kris: “You started with a killer model for imagining the future –a new vision that inspires deep optimism, shared purpose, and collaborative action. I’m quoting from your web site, Sam. This is beautiful.” 

Sam: “You got it right away.”

Kris: “What I loved was that your future is optimistic and interconnected. I wanted to work on your project, not mine.”

Tip: Shared values build a strong foundation for a partnership.

Tip: The Experienced Leader needs to be on the cutting edge of culture. The project moves quickly because both partners are using the same and compatible skills and information.

Setting Ground Rules

Ideally, the partners have compatible work styles. In reality, that is rare. Partners need to work out their differences in how they work. For most of the project, Sam and I worked virtually from two different locations. He’d write; I’d edit in a back-and-forth exchange. Then when Sam’s work had progressed to a point where he was ready, we got together to discuss the project face to face. Kindly, Sam came to my office so I didn’t have to commute.

Our own ground rules evolved as we continued to work together. It was a natural urge to have an agenda and outcomes for our meetings. They started and ended on time. We focused on the task at hand and had the same work-first-before-play ethic.

An important element of our partnership was telling the truth, giving honest feedback in a constructive way. Sam did shift his idea from change maker dinners to a web site.

The How you work is as important as the What you are working on.

Kris: “Sam, you made it easy for me. You came to my office; you were always on time, and you stayed only as long as needed. I felt that you respected my time.”

Sam: “Of course. I felt I owed you that.”

Kris: “Your progress on your project drove our timeline. We’d meet when you were ready. We’d talk and then you’d go away to digest it.”

Sam: “Work unfolds in fits and starts. Creativity can’t always conform to the clock or calendar. I appreciated that you were available when I needed you and that you didn’t impose a superficial structure that would not have been suited to my creative enterprise.”

Kris: “I see no reason to meet for meeting’s sake.”

Sam added: “You were pretty challenging and told me the truth. Honestly, I don’t want someone to give me praise when I haven’t earned it.”

Kris: “Well, you certainly have earned my admiration.”

Sam: “But I don’t know if I would say that to any coach at the beginning of a relationship – please, be tough. That has to come from the coach.”

Tip: Create a structure and ground rules that work for both partners. Ground rules may evolve as the work moves on.

Tip: An idea blooms with skillful pruning. Keep the best parts of an idea and use that root stock for the rest of the plant to grow upon. The coach is a gardener who provides light and food for the plant.

Tip: Ask questions; don’t tell your partner what to do. In this way, the new idea remains his own.

Tip: Provide guidance and honest feedback. Provide the feedback in a style that fits the partner’s readiness to listen.

Working on the Project

Sam had a big idea – the strategic thinking should include four elements of technology, ecology, social justice, and spiritual awakenings. And Sam’s vision included engaging with other change makers and futurists. His initial idea – to have change maker dinners. His ultimate idea – to build a web site with these ideas to spread, engage, and collaborate with others.

So we worked not only on Sam’s articles but also the design of the web site. I helped by pointing him to others who had done similar work – writing and speaking. I networked him with them so he could learn his own way forward – write first and then speak? How to get speaking engagements? I’m not the subject expert myself, but I could get him lined up with others who are.

Sam: “For me, the most important part of our working together was that you never smothered my idealism. And you never told me that I was wrong.”

Kris: “I’m still an optimist. Martin Luther King said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it slowly bends towards justice.’ I admire that you quit your job to pivot your entire career toward this big idea. That takes a lot of courage and commitment.”

Sam: “Did you ever do that?”

Kris: “Yes, I took a pay cut to teach in an alternative school that taught service learning for social change. Now I’m working for corporations who believe in social change and conscious capitalism.”

Sam: “Optimism isn’t just for the young, is it?” 

Kris: “That’s exactly right, Sam.”

Tip: Use your experience and network. Share freely.

Tip: Your project may morph into another direction. Be honest about what you can and cannot do to help.

Tip: Stay alert that you are not encouraging old thinking onto a new idea.

Deepening the Relationship

Lessons learned. Debrief. The project ends. Will the relationship continue?

One of the exciting elements of working together was not only the excitement of seeing the project come to fruition, but also to reflect on the lessons learned. This was a true partnership – the Experienced Leader learned from the Emerging Leader.  We spent an entire meeting talking about the project and what we got out of the relationship.

This article is one aspect of our sharing. We hope that others in different generations are open to opportunities to work together , and that you gain some ideas about how to do that.

Kris: “You know, I wasn’t kidding when I said that I had been thinking of retiring. You have been a great help to me, Sam.” 

Sam: “That’s good. I wanted this partnership to be balanced.”

Kris: “You let me know that I have what it takes to work with Millennials, with younger people. I’m not going to retire. Not only am I going to continue working, but I also will change the focus of my consulting work. Now I’ll consult to Conscious Capitalists and social entrepreneurs. They’re trying to do good in the world.”

Sam: “That’s quite a shift.” Kris: “Well, you helped me remember that I did the same thing before. I can do it now.”

Kris: “I guess I need to change my web site.” 

Sam: “I’m glad you say that. Honestly, your site reeks . . . of an old-fashioned business model. It doesn’t appeal to Millennials.”

Kris: “Now you tell me. You’re right, Sam.”

Sam: “Let me work with you on that.”

Kris: “I see that this is leading to a long -term relationship.”

Tip: Get connected to working with Millennials. They are your next friends, customers, and confidants.

Tip: Leave your heart open to working with other generations.

Check out Sam’s new website at

Kris’s website is a work in progress. If you want to see the Before version, it’s at


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