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The Leadership Styles of Different Generations

Generational business strategy finally began to emerge in the very late 1990s, after a few of us had scratched and clawed for about 15 years to create and develop it and then try to convince American business, government and education that the term “generation” meant far more than anyone recognized.

In the past dozen years, Generational Marketplace Strategy and Generational Workplace Strategy have proven themselves—spectacularly so—and become imperative training for all of us.

And here is an important new application of this field of study: generational leadership transition.

In a nutshell:

Each generation takes its turn at the top. Its members begin their work years at entry level. The best—or luckiest—of them climb the ladder during their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. And then, when the moment arrives that their generation’s oldest members reach retirement age—about 65—and the rest of them trail down in age through their 50s and 40s, their generation BEGINS its leadership era, replacing the retiring generation.

And when this new generation takes over, it installs its own unique—and powerful—core values throughout American life: business, government, education, religion and our other institutions. These unique core values were burned into them by the unique times and teachings of their generation’s formative years, roughly the first 18 to 23 years of their lives.

It takes a few years for a new leadership generation to disentangle from the prior generation’s two decades of leadership, but when it does, its unique core values push America in a direction that is significantly—and often profoundly—different from the direction of the prior generation.

Such is the power of generational leadership.

A Snapshot of Our Five Living Generations and Their Leadership Styles

Leadership Styles of Different Generations
Leadership Styles

G. I. Generation Leadership Styles

Current age is 86+; immortalized by Tom Brokaw’s book as The Greatest Generation; from formative years of The Great Depression and World War II, G. I.’s grew up compassionate, caring, helping and ethical with a strong sense of nation and “we’re all in this together”; fearless, bold and visionary leaders; corporate presidents cared as much about the janitor in the basement as his vice-presidents in the executive suites; when America soared after WWII, it was the G. I. leadership era guiding the highest quality of life in American history.

Silent Generation Leadership Styles

Current age is 67 to 85; the final leadership era dominated by white men; Silents proved to be magnificent in the so-called helping professions, giving America a bumper crop of skilled educators, healthcare practitioners and others; but their formative years—the 1930s into the early ‘60s—molded in them unique core values that would position them poorly for leadership; uniquely vulnerable to greed and, with it, corruption; less action-oriented and visionary; the American leadership crisis of the 1990s and 2000s will always rest squarely in the lap of the White Silent Male.

Baby Boomers Leadership Styles

Current age is 48 to 66; their formative years—the 1950s to the early ‘80s—delivered times and teachings that give this generation no excuse as it begins its leadership era in 2011-2012; if Boomers do not now give America optimistic, bold, visionary, ethical and compassionate leadership, they will have fallen spectacularly on their faces; Boomers become the first generation whose leadership will be dual-gender and multi-ethnic, thanks to the Feminist and Civil Rights Movements they championed in their youth and early adulthood; their generation’s leadership era will continue into the 2030s and perhaps beyond as modern medicine elongates our life expectancy and career passage.

GenX Leadership Styles

Current age is 31 to 47; because of their unique formative years, X’ers possess core values that will enable them to give America brilliant IDEA leadership when they lead the nation from sometime in the 2030s into the 2050s; but as they are already demonstrating as they enter mid-management and some upper-management levels, they will struggle with PEOPLE leadership; they tell me they’re struggling to understand and manage the younger Millennials and to gain the respect of older Boomer subordinates.

Millennials Leadership Styles

Current age is 18 to 30, and their generation is still coming; we don’t yet know in what birth year Mils will end and the next generation will begin; Mils are showing the promise of giving America the kind of leadership greatness that G. I.’s gave and Boomers should give; optimistic, ethical, compassionate, visionary and bold; but it is likely Millennials will profoundly alter the traditional leadership hierarchy; look for multiple CEO’s and virtual Boards of Directors and much more decision-by-consensus.

For the first time in history, generational study—and strategy—are in place to help each generation identify its likely leadership strengths and weaknesses. Boomers, X’ers and Millennials can benefit from this knowledge. In a current-day America of gloom, outrage and embarrassment at our plummeting world reputation, training in Generational Leadership offers the promise of a better day.

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