From Boomer to Gen Y Leaders: New Emperors Need Newer Clothes
In the 1990s, we Boomers were fretting over a previous economic downturn and whether or not the Internet was a passing fad (another golden age of myopia). At that time, management thinker, Charles Handy, told a memorable story as an analogy for change in his book ‘The Age of Unreason’.
A tribe of South American Indians would place a frog in a pan of cold water and then heat it to boiling point (cheap midweek dinner). The frog would adapt its body temperature to the rising heat and be unaware of its fate until too late. However, Handy reported that if you put a frog into a pan of boiling water, it leaps out (or if the frog is a little slow, you get an instant ready meal).
What has this got to do with business today and tomorrow?
The world is facing a massive demographic challenge as the number of Boomers reaching retirement age creates a yawning chasm in the workplace. The New York Times called it a looming ‘Elderquake’ as the over-65s now outnumber the under 5s.
If you took a straw poll of Fortune 500 or FTSE 250 companies to find out the average age of CEOs, I suspect it’s nearer the Boomer end of the range. The predominant leadership and management styles and approaches that many Boomers have clung on to for decades met their apotheosis during the banking crisis. Command and out of control.
Our banks, businesses and political institutions have behaved like Handy’s frog in the pan of cold water: eyes wide shut and oblivious to what was happening around them. The pace, amount of change and complexity in the world means the water is now pretty hot most of the time.
What and who will replace the old emperors? The Millennials and their Generation Z successors will have to step up and seize the mantle of leadership from those reluctant Boomers who refuse to go gently into that dark night.
The younger, new emperors need clothes that fit authentically and inspirationally… and to find their own unique voice in tune with the times.
How will Boomers avoid passing down a legacy of ‘well, it worked for us’? If they have to work longer than previous generations, will they hang around in positions of power and simply refuse to let go?
Looking into my half-full crystal ball, a logical extension of the demographic shift may be a floating resource of freelance experience working longer than current retirement ages, less people in static offices, greater diversity of contribution and a further squeezing of time and space not constrained by 9 to 5.
What and who will replace the old emperors?
Millennial leaders will have fewer people to ‘manage’ in the traditional sense, are likely to lead more remote teams and online collaboration tools will be omnipresent.
Stepping up and letting go are multi-generational challenges. We need radical change in business leadership practice – ethical enterprise with values and behaviors to match. We need a genuine dialogue among the generations to develop new models of leadership and management that both enable healthy transition and reshape capitalism in a way that truly leverages talent from all sectors of society.
The younger, new emperors need clothes that fit authentically and inspirationally… and to find their own unique voice in tune with the times. They must lead with eyes wide open while learning to swim in the steamy, uncharted waters of our new economy – or learn to leap like Handy’s frog.
Millennials, what’s your vision of leadership? Boomers and Generation X, what discussion between the generations is taking place in your business about succession planning for the next generation of leaders? What’s your vision for the future leadership of your enterprise?