Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cross-Generational Leadership

The other thing I wanted to comment on from Jamie free e-book, Generational Diversity in the Workplace: Hype Won't Get You Results, is a point he makes near the end.

So what impact will Generation X have on leadership? It is not that simple any more. Part of what we need to rethink here is the notion of a linear progression of leadership models that each generation introduces, fighting the battle with the generation that preceded them. Today's leadership model will change (and that change will encounter resistance), but I expect the new model will beging to be developed more cross-generationally. The function of leadership does not exist solely at the top of the hierarchy, which means that leadership is, by definition, the responsibility of multiple generations. Conversations about new leadership models, therefore, are more likely to involve multiple generations than in years past.

This trend will be reinforced by the demographics as well. Generation X is a relatively small generation, sandwiched between the two largest generations in American history. It seems unlikely that they will take over leadership positions, or the spots on the Boards of Directors in a dominating way. The Boomers will likeky stay longer than in previous generations, and the Millennials will likely be moving more quickly into those positions. With three generations sharing leadership positions, it is certain that a new model will emerge--one that will likely challenge the vales and assumptions of all three generations.

Apologies for quoting such a long segment, but I think it neatly summarizes a lot of what we've been talking about here on Hourglass. Much of the blogosphere seems convinced that, when it comes to generations and leadership, there is only one narrative worth following:

The Boomers, given their changing financial needs brought on by the Great Recession and their natural tendency to actualize themselves through a tireless devotion to their work, will hang on to their existing leadership positions longer than most previous generations, and will even move into new leadership positions in the nonprofit world in order to better satisfy their legacy needs. When they are ready to hand over the reins, it will be to the Millennials, who are being dubbed "The Crucible Generation" by such luminaries as Warren Bennis, for their entrepreneurial vision and commitment to social responsibility.

I like Jamie's vision better. Leadership is not a mantle that is passed from one generation to the next like a baton. It is a system that exists within an organization that needs to find ways to self-perpetuate itself in order to ensure that the values and goals of the organization--which are larger than any one generation--continue to be held and advance.

I'm fascinated by the idea of the three generations--Boomers, Xers and Millennials--working together to fashion a new system of leadership for the organizations that need to be preserved, especially through the great financial crisis we are all facing. As I explored in last week's post, don't they all have something to contribute to that system, something unique that will make it stronger and more sustainable than any system based on any one generation's ideals, or any system based on the outdated idea of passing the baton from one generation to the next?


Peggy Hoffman said...

Imagine the incredible legacy that we aging boomers could leave if we really understood it doesn't matter who gets the credit, it matters that we get it done. Love the vision of three-generations working together on a model that celebrates getting it done not the star.

Eric Lanke said...

Thanks for the comment, Peggy. I've actually been noodling around an idea of trying to organize a session at the next ASAE Annual Meeting--getting Boomers, Xers and Millennials together to talk about what that shared model of leadership might look like. Would that be of interest to anyone out there?

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