Saturday, January 30, 2010

Obama: A Leader That Stymies Xers and Boomers Alike

With the anniversary of President Obama's first year in office passing a few days ago--to say nothing of his State of the Union address--there's been a lot of analysis in the media and in the blogosphere about his leadership qualities or, depending on your point of view, his lack thereof.

Jeff DeCagna recently directed my attention to this report, which is based on something that Tammy Erickson recently posted on the Harvard Business blog. Her basic thesis is that Obama embodies all the classic traits of GenX leaders--he's pragmatic, he keeps his options open, and he embraces diversity.

I touched on these same thoughts on another recent post of mine, but there I focused more on GenX's emerging leadership style as Erickson describes it, rather than on whether or not Obama truly embodies it. So now let me weigh on on that part of the discussion.

Generally speaking, the one point I think Erickson gets the most right is the idea of GenX leaders being more about quiet, practical solutions to problems and less about adherence to strategies that support an ideological framework. And while I think Obama certainly campaigned on this theme, it’s not clear to me that he has actually governed that way. He's decided to tackle some tough problems, and he's talks about seeking practical solutions to them, but he has up to now been willing to let the legislative process come up with those solutions. What's naturally resulted from that political process is a bunch of ideological solutions--none of which "practical" Obama has rejected.

And this Xer, at least, doesn't expect him to. Erickson talks about Obama being on the cusp of the Boomers and Xers (some, in fact, say Generation Jones), and looking at him that way makes a lot more sense to me. He's not a GenX leader and he's not a Boomer leader. He's a hybrid--the practical Xer merging with the ideological Boomer. His leadership challenge comes from trying to split the middle, which, as often happens in politics and in leadership, means that neither group is likely to be happy with him. Indeed, the Boomer perspective seems downright pessimistic about his chances for success.


Anonymous said...

Well-written piece. If you research expert opinion on this issue, you'll find that actual experts overwhelmingly view Obama as part of Generation Jones, not as anXer or Boomer.

Eric Lanke said...

Thanks, politico08. Do you have any recommendations for great analysis on the whole "Obama as a Joneser" issue? Try as I might, I have a hard time seeing Jones as a generation in and of itself, and not as a co-hort of people on the cusp who don't identify fully with Boomers or Xers.

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