Leadership styles: baby boomers and generation x comparedAs old sayings go, “Time is of the essence” and that “Every second counts”, time has always been the one unchangeable reality that distinguishes members of every generation. Even though parents of their own generation often raise their children in the same way as they were raised, factors of time, environment, events and needs have always been evident contributors of the differences in vision and preferences of the members of each generation. In the same manner, society have witnessed and experienced the differences, especially in the historically distinct generations of Baby Boomer and Generation X.
Being raised in different situations (social and economic), Baby Boomers and Generation Xers have distinct characteristics in terms of leadership styles. For the purpose of this paper, it is important that we first establish an understanding of who the Baby Boomers are and the members of the Generation X as well. In the history of America, the population expansion from 1946-1964 has been recorded as the greatest boom ever.
Obviously this is the very reason why such generation was called “Baby Boomer Generation”.
There was however other names labeled to them such as Spock Babies, Sputnik Generation, Protest Generation, Me Generation and Yuppies although what was generally accepted was Baby Boomer. This generation composed of over 76 million babies, wherein 4.3 million babies were born in 1957 (Ken, Baker 1995).The members of the Generation X on the other hand were those born from 1965 to 1976 although there are also documents that would say it extends to 1978 (Russell, Cheryl 1991).
As noted by one writer, this generation “has always lived in the long shadow of the Boomers” (Morrison, Peter A. 1990). In some articles, Generation X is labeled as Baby Busters for the reason that this generation will be the one who will succeed the Baby Boomers in terms of leadership on both public and private sectors (Kiechel, W. 1989).
To understand the differences of the two generations, one has to look deeper into the situations and events and became part of their lives especially those that left a mark in their emotions and their values. “These events left emotional memories that to these people and these were far more potent than the mental impressions which were derived from reading events that have never been experienced” (Fay, W. 1993). Since events form part of people’s emotions, they necessarily shape our feelings about authority, materialism, family, careers and even institutions.
As the Baby Boomers exit from their leadership seats, the Generation Xers whether both parties like it or not, have to step into the leadership ladder. The transition has to take place despite the differences in leadership styles. In this case, we are bound to look into the historical events that have influenced the differences in perspectives and leadership styles of the two generations.Raised on rock and rebellion in an era of phenomenal national wealth, they became a somewhat indulged and narcissistic tribe nicknamed Yuppies.
Their views were shaped by events such as Watergate and Vietnam, which exposed the vulnerability of authority and the follies of a powerful nation. They were also witnesses to striking contrasts in leaders — some inducing hope and idealism, like Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, and others promoting cynicism and apathy, such as Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.
On the other hand, the Generation Xers were children of dual-career parents and of parents whose marriages produced record divorce rates.In short, they spurned the idealism that their parents had embraced when young for a more pragmatic and cynical realism. The shaping events in their lives were Ronald Reagan, the crash of the Challenger space shuttle and the Gulf war. These children were raised and inspired by the challenge of the then President Ronald Reagan: “Your destiny is in your own hands.
You work hard, you can achieve. But it’s up to you. You are the master of your ship. This is the land of opportunity.
If you didn’t make it, that’s your own fault” (Zill, N., and Robinson, J. 1995).The differences in their situations when they lived were indeed big contributors of what they became as leaders of their own institutions.
“They’re working in a different economy and business model, and they have different values and experiences that they bring to the table” (Houlihan, Anne 2008). What we are seeing in Generation X’ers is a different set of attitudes about the workplace (Stewart, T. 1994). Due to independence inculcated in them, this generation is often up to more organized business affairs.
This generation simply distrusts hierarchy for the reason that they prefer to judge on merit rather than on status. They are far less loyal to their companies in the sense that they do not see themselves interested in staying with one company for long.One big justification for this is that Generation Xers do not want to be followers for the rest of their careers and so they gather experience and knowledge from one company to another until they find their confidence to lead in a higher position in others. Raised as independents, they do not wait for others what to do on certain things.
They are the first generation in America to be raised on a heavy diet of workplace participation and teamwork. They know computers inside and out. They like money, but they also say they want balance in their lives. They are more skeptical, cooler and have different values.
Boomer leader on the other hand are more focused on mission, vision, principle and values. One analyst has noted that Boomers due to their loyalty and focus on these intangibles “sometimes to the point of being unwilling to move ahead without a highly-principled course of action in place” (Gilburg, Deborah 2008). They are noted as transformers for loving much of redefining and reorganizing things in the company. They are known to be indulged with networking and connections as a need for growing a company.
Gilburg also added that, in every sector, Boomers want to make their mark through an improvement, distinction, or change.In contrast with the Generation Xers, Boomer leaders are noted for their loyalty at work to the point of tending to get married to their work. They have the so-called pressure-driven mentality that creates a reactive decision-making process which can trump a more strategic, long-term, approach. The Boomer executive were said to be prone to using to leadership styles: egalitarian consensus-seeking or authoritarian leadership styles.
Because they have the pressure driven mentality, these leaders try to employ the technique of consensus problem-solving and of strictly meeting deadlines. This then would lead them to become autocratic at the same time in such as way that they are making decisions in a “vacuum and creating backlash and frustration” (Gilburg, 2008). The more authoritative leaders position themselves as the deciders, but often have a thin-skinned authority when dealing with pushback. They can surround themselves with “yes men,” which has the end result of stifling creativity and innovation.
Despite these seemingly negative feedbacks about Boomer leadership style, there is one writer who expressly admitted some of the inconvenience they have encountered and continue to battle with during their leadership. “We Boomers have met the ultimate challenge – communicating across generations (now spanning up to four generations in the same workplace), each with different values, beliefs and attitudes (Zust, Christine W. 2008). One obvious reason for this is the sudden economic booming of American economy and at the same time the beginning of establishing businesses in other countries.
Although computers were already introduced during the Boomer’s generation, it was not until the Generation X that these technologies were used greatly for communication.Zust explained that “as Boomers in leadership roles hone their communication skills, the generational challenges are many.” Relative to this, Zust admitted that it indeed much of an inconvenience on the part of the boomers to manage the senior members of the organization. Raised in families whose parents were naturally the boss and in that way, parents are the deciders in the household, boomers cannot be blamed for having the feeling like deciding for their parents when they lead.
Trained by traditionalist leaders and parents, boomers generally work on issues of mutual respect, trust and sharing.Relative to family orientation, “Gen-Xers are family oriented and place a high value on life balance” (Houlihan 2008). This is probably the most influential factor that drives this generation workers and leaders to get things done at the designated time. These people do not generally render extra time at work because of the reason that they have done things within the working hours.
They one good and valid reason for such is that they value time rendered for their families so they have to make sure everything is done before 5pm so they could get home in time. In contrast, boomer’s loyalty and love of work drive them to stay late at work and render more hours because this is their view of productivity. Being quick workers, Generation Xers tend to value results than hours rendered at work.Looking at another aspect of the boomers’ lives, let us remember that the Baby Boomers were, for the most part, raised in a suburban setting where the Depression-molded mentality of hard work gave way to a variety of new opportunities and activities.
It is not fair, though, to claim that the Boomers’ need for care is solely due to a softer childhood. They may be less resilient, but the reasons go deeper than this surface, though accurate, evidence. Baby Boomers want organizations that value people over programs. They want assurance that the administration cares for them as persons and not just as a means of fulfilling the task.
Moreover, Boomers see clearly the difference between theoretical caring and real, tangible caring. For the Boomer, caring means meeting needs, whether personal, physical, or spiritual. In this case, there are several points that we can evaluate in order to further understand the leadership styles of the Baby Boomers (Bennis, W. & Thomas, R.
2002).1. Limited time commitment. Baby Boomers usually had a limited time commitment in mind.
Increasingly, they expressed this preference through short-term service. The pace of life is too fast for Boomers to believe they will continue to do the same thing for an entire lifetime. Likewise, Boomers do not view commitment in relation to a particular time period or task. Rather, they relate commitment to an overall objective which governs the choices they make during their lifetime.
Most Boomers believe they will do several meaningful things in their lifetime.2. Participatory leadership style. As a result of a generational tendency to question authority, Boomers openly challenge tradition and convention.
In fact, from day one they begin to question the decisions of their leaders and actively promote innovation and change. When it comes to leadership and authority, Boomers expect to be included. They long to participate in the flow of information and in the progress of decisions. It is not so much that they demand their opinions be adopted as much as they feel the need to share what they think, plus be assured someone is listening and taking them seriously.
The key element here is that Boomers value “personal” power over “positional” power (Elder 1991). In other words, what one knows about a person, his character, and background, relational ability, etc., has a lot more influence than titles or positions.3.
Personal development. It is crucial that their role provide personal development for the present and the future.4. Family needs.
Baby Boomers have seen in their lifetime the wholesale breakup of the family structure, and Busters have had to swallow an even greater dose of this reality. Furthermore, they are much more likely to have personally experienced a bruised background. Such worry is understandable when considering the weight of this collection of pressures (Johnston 1992).For Generations X, the old command and control leadership is passé.
The top down leadership style that grew from a military model is not effective in today’s world of rapid change. Today’s young leaders act first and evaluate later, because a leader cannot afford to carefully evaluate first in the high-speed environment of today. This rapid response decision-making is a characteristic of today’s young people. They have been taught to act fast.
These characteristics of the Generation X leaders sometimes make the boomers think that it is hard to respect the quick, decisive leadership style we see in young people. The gap sometimes falls on the older generation’s tendency to question how much they really know. In that way, tend to devalue their ability to make decisions based on limited experience. But young people today know more that we knew at their age.
The World Wide Web and instantaneous access to news and information has made knowledge much more available at an earlier age. There are also several key points that we could look into relative to the leadership styles of the Generation X leaders (Chester, E. 2002).1.
The concept of career has changed. Young people today talk more about jobs and skills than they do about career paths. They don’t see the need or the benefit of picking a single career. Increasingly young people talk about having parallel careers.
Many say they expect nine different careers in their lifetime. Life in the new millennium is all about speed. Young people not only live with speed and chaos, they thrive in it. In a climate of rapid change the young generations knows you have to act fast to win or stay in the game.
If you proceed slowly and cautiously, you lose. The patient are glanced over, passed over and run over. The great depression taught people to make sacrifices and be patient, but the Information age has taught a generation that you never have to wait for anything. They believe in just doing it.
2. Loyalty has new meaning among young people who saw their parents downsized, reengineered and layoff off. They know the days of corporate loyalty to employees are long gone. Young people look after themselves first.
They exhibit little loyalty to anyone other than friends and family. Loyalty is highly valued, and given only to a few friends and colleagues after they have earned it. When they feel respected and valued they will be loyal to the cause or organization and become great assets and advocates.3.
Balance is a fundamental value in the younger generations. As children of workaholic baby boomers, they view time, commitments and career advances through the lens of balance. In the workplace young people have been termed slackers because they don’t work late, or don’t come in on the weekend or they refuse to attend those extra meeting. They expect time off for family functions and don’t understand why they have to stick around if they’ve finished all that was expected of them.
But it is not an aversion to work that prompts their actions. It is a commitment to family and friends – a commitment to having a balanced life in which work is only one segment of a full life.4. The concept of heroes.
For many of us in older generations, heroes contributed to our ideals and values. Generation Xers may consider parents, friends and coworkers as people they admire, but most often they say they have no real models of leadership, no people they look up to outside of their immediate circle. Information makes heroes temporary or passing figures. Consider all the books that have been written about the Kennedy’s, Martin Luther King or Princess Diana.
They also do not view age, seniority and rank as measures of accomplishment or expertise. Unlike an earlier time when people admired their elders and followed them to victory, this generation does not see age as a dominant characteristic for leadership. In an era of complexity and change, young people look for leaders who work with followers as intimate allies. They want colleagues who will develop relationships that build intimacy and show trust and respect for them, their abilities and their ideas.
The comparison of the leadership characteristics of the two generations are not mere opinions of authors and this paper. There are reliable facts and figures that would prove these claims to be real and authentic. Let us say for example a survey conducted by the Personnel Decision International (PDI) released in 2007. The table below is a summary of the data gathered by the said group and has been the basis of analyses by other observers.
COMPARATIVE TABLE OF LEADERSHIP SKILLS- BOOMERS AND GENERATION XBABY BOOMERSGENERATION XSKILLRATESKILLRATE(%)(%)Knowing the business17.74Developing Oneself9.81Coaching and Developing14.47Showing Work Commitment6.
56Managing Execution12.13Analyzing Issues5.92Using Technical/Functional Expertise10.18Demonstrating Adaptability5.
57Displaying Organizational Savvy9.85Drive for Results3.10Establishing Plans9.17Speaking Effectively3.
02Managing Disagreements7.51Listening to Others2.40Providing Direction6.78Building Relationships2.
33Fostering Teamwork6.09Using Sound Judgment3.93Distinct Skills of Baby Boomers and Generation X: Source: Personnel Decision International(PDI) 2007In a separate survey in 1993, Gallup Poll was able to gather a solid evidence of the distinct leadership styles, values and work culture of the two generations (Exhibit 1). This is not actually to place much favor on the Generation X leaders, but let us look into the major events that led them to what kind of leaders they are now.
Most Xers weren’t raised by stay-at-home moms. Their parents were probably divorced. Several outcomes sprung from these early experiences. One, Xers grew up quickly.
They mastered self-reliance. Some experts contend the reason why Xers postpone leaving home: They didn’t have their parents’ attention as children, and want to compensate. Other Xers concede it is too late, and freely admit their parents weren’t influences. Parental leniency and indifference also led to Xers’ issue with authority – taking orders, for example.
Interestingly, Xers demand respect, yet expect elders to earn theirs and tend to be vocal.Summing it up, Baby Boomers are leaders who generally tend to autocratic especially in decision-making. They are the ones who literally act like “boss” and no one else. In contrast, Generation X leaders were the ones who learned to demand participation in decision making processes.
Boomers view company loyalty by rendering longer hours at work while generation Xers are focused on getting things done within the working hours. Boomers were used to being feed with the information on how to get things done while Xers are more quick and independent on their tasks. With the type of technology as definer of the gap, Boomers tend to rely on getting things done manually and are patient in waiting for results while Boomers prefer to use and are actually more comfortable in using technology to speed up the completion of their tasks. In anyway, these leaders have their own strengths and weaknesses.
We cannot really pinpoint who are greater leaders because they handle leadership responsibilities at different time, needs, environment, technology, education and cultural settings.;;;;;;;;BIBLIOGRAPHYBaker, Ken (1995). The Impact of the Baby Boom Generation Upon Mission Trends. Trinity International University, 1995.
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