According to Chuck Underwood, Owner, The Generational Imperative, Inc., we are entering the period when Baby Boomers will fill most key leadership posts in America. Implications of this transition were highlighted in his presentation, “Generational Leadership Transition & the American Marketplace” at the July 12, 2011, Columbus AMA luncheon.
Key impact of this shift to Boomer leadership on the workplace will be:
• Expect more boldness, Boomers bring an attitude of “if it ain’t broke, break it” – in pursuit of the best you cast aside what already exists
• Product development will change as creativity is prized
• Greater focus on the 50+ age segment as businesses chase markets with more money
• Brand loyalty won’t drive purchasing unless the brand’s performance matches it promise
Each generation leads for two decades and Boomers are now taking over from their predecessors. Other elements of generational studies include:
• Formative years mold core values
• Currently have five living generations
• Generational values guide decisions
The boundaries between generations are defined by times when change creates different experiences that then drive different values.
Today’s five living generations:
1. “G.I.” – born between 1901-26, over 85 years old, known as the “Greatest Generation” due to adulthood roles in Depression and World War II.
2. “Silent” – born 1927-45 & currently 66-84 years old.
3. “Boomer” – born 1946-64, currently 47-65 years old.
4. “Gen X” – born 1965-81, 30-46 years old.
5. “Millenial” – 1982-now, 29 & under.
Note: Since generational values can’t be observed in people under 18, the end-date of the Millenial generation won’t be known until a change is measured in young adults.
Mr. Underwood doesn’t think much of the leadership results provided by the Silent generation. He points to the failures at Enron, Andersen Consulting, Worldcom and others as results of the Silent generation’s focus on conformity, organizational loyalty and material wealth.
Boomers values of optimism, empowerment, engagement fair play and idealism in search of a more-perfect America are born from their experience growing up in an era “as magical as magical gets.” Under the leadership of the G.I. generation we had strong families, tight communities, stable jobs and historical social progress.
The consciousness movements of Boomer youth and young adulthood (1961-75) still shape our world:
• Civil Rights movement
• Feminist movement
• Ecology movement
• War protests
• Sexual revolution
• Drug revolution
So even though Boomers “inherit a leadership situation that is the moral and ethical equivalent of a toxic waste dump” Underwood seems optimistic they will outperform their predecessors. Underwood emphasizes that Boomers are the first generation with a significant percentage of women and minorities in leadership roles. As a dual-gender, multi-ethnic generation he expects them to:
• Focus on good ethics
• Value emotional factors
• Seek longer-term solutions
• Value social benefits
• Question rule compliance
• Constantly question the status quo
As a Boomer myself I, of course, question the validity of Mr. Underwood’s thesis and analysis but I’ve got to admit he makes my generation look good. If we screw it up as bad as the Silents history will not be so kind.