Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Generations, Leadership, and Default Modes

Eric's last post about the Generation X approach to leadership has me thinking. It makes sense to me that generations will view the idea of "leadership" differently, and the point Eric raised--is it okay for a leader to be unsure or admit he or she is wrong--is a good one. As an Xer, I agree it's a "duh" moment, though I'd probably also agree with that being a strong "P" on the Myers-Briggs scale (always looking for more data!).

But I doubt that would be a "duh" to previous generations. When I speak on this topic and talk about the Silent Generation, I tell the story from Saving Private Ryan where Tom Hanks' character is talking to a glider pilot. The pilot recounts a story about how a General demanded to have his own jeep bolted to the glider so he'd have it when they landed on D-Day. This made the glider impossible to fly, however, and dozens of soldiers died as a result. Tom Hanks and his crew simply responded with shaking their heads and saying "FUBAR" (an acronym, meaning Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition). "Leadership" for that generation was about winning a war and getting out of the depression and it was NOT something that was challenged, either in the moment or afterward even if it didn't work. There was simply too much important work to be done--you had to just move on.

And Boomers are known for being very focused on "the cause," and are sometimes conflict averse, because you would never want to reveal that your cause is splintered. So in the moment, you stand up with conviction and push your vision clearly and strongly.

Those are the "leadership" models that they grew up with. So it's not that they would necessarily disagree with a single statement, like being a good boss is a mix of confidence and humility, but that's still not likely to be their "default" mode. Similarly, there are times where the humility and open-ended approach of the Xers is not going to work. We'll recognize that in the abstract, but OUR default mode may be to go back to questioning, and that might not serve us.

So any time you find yourself in a "well duh" moment, it's both an opportunity to explore the perspective of people who don't see it that way AND it's an opportunity to look at where your own "default" modes may get in the way of you being effective.


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