What turns an ordinary person into a leader? Is it an inborn aptitude; is it a learned skill? More than anything else a chance to practice leading provides the key. Leaders learn by leading. One of the things that Millennials are finding is they are just beginning to get opportunities to do this, but a large percentage of the smaller Gen X group that preceded them had even less chance to do this.
We need to look back at the beginning of the twentieth century to see how events have affected generational attitudes in the United States. The G.I. (or War) Generation, was born in the first quarter of the twentieth. Many lived through two world wars, and a number actually fought in one of them. They suffered though the through depression as teenagers and young adults. They produced a laudable number of leaders, but on the average didn’t live as long as the generation that followed them.
Also, most of the G.I. generation and the Silent generation, which followed them, received far more in social security benefits than they paid into the system. The Silent generation was relatively small due to the low birth rate during the depression and war years, but they found it easier to move up the economic ladder than any currently living generation in USA. Part of this was due to the devastation of World War 2 on the rest of the world. These generations may have experienced poverty but economic boom allowed many to retire early.They were willing to turn leadership over to the younger, more impertinent Baby Boomers.
Boomers showed more of a distinct change in culture from their parents, with drastically different tastes in music and clothes. They also had a more anti-authoritarian attitude than the two generations that came before them. However, a study on work values of the different generations made an interesting observation on this generation’s view of authority:
“Now, there is an exception for Boomers’ distrust of authority, and this exception is evoked when they are the ones in power.”
Interestingly, generation born between 1946 and 1964 did not receive much of anything in the way of leadership training as they began to managing people; that was one of the purposes of attending college. Prior to Baby Boomers those that moved up into leadership were predominantly white and male, and often received the advantages of nepotism. The older cohorts of Boomers were raised in this tradition. But then came crusades for civil rights and feminism. More people made their profession a priority over their family. The cry arose for this opportunity of leadership to be extended to diverse groups. So there was a larger pool to be considered for leaders.
Boomers often assume that their age gives them privileges that younger generations have not yet gained. However, the right to remain the generation in power is a perceived right that they have clung to, unwilling to pass this on. This has left the Gen X and Millennial generations lacking in opportunities to improve their leadership abilities. So the need has arisen to train the younger generations for the task of leadership.
Will this work as well as experience? We’ll find out in the years to come. Meanwhile becoming a leadership trainer or coach gives the Boomers another kind of career they can transition into, which is helpful, because due to recent economic downturns many are never planning on retiring.