"Generation gap in leadership"

by Didier Marlier on Sunday June 26th, 2011

Last week’s post has been our most successful to date. Heartfelt thanks to all of you who read and shared it with so many new others! The post created a lot of direct exchanges, as, I guess, most of you hesitate in posting public comments and sharing confidential information.

In your private comments, one theme seemed to come back consistently and was summarized by one of you: “I nowadays see a shift in values between managers and workers that questions me. In the 80’s methodical and rational, often individualistic leaders implemented strategies and action plans that left very little space for individual initiative and entrepreneurship. On the receiving end, workers, strongly attached to their work and values, strongly reacted.

Today, as your post suggests when describing the exemplary way in which Dow LatAm leaders engage their people, managers have understood that cold, detached and over rational ways of doing aren’t working anymore. They go back to “get their hands dirty”, they lead with their people, they do not isolate themselves on the 27th floor: They connect, make themselves approachable and vulnerable. This is also how I try to behave in my leadership mission. Now to my disappointment, I often see on the operational terrain, people displaying individualistic attitudes, often maneuvering for a selfish short term interest. There seems to be a generational gap as well (maybe the famous X vs Y generation conflict?). Even union’s representatives are surprised: “We find it increasingly difficult to motivate and engage employees in collective actions” did one recently admit.

Indeed, an increasing number of today’s leaders are aware of the profound evolution required by a complex environment, where relevant knowledge isn’t exclusively located at the top of the pyramid. We witness admirable personal transformations in many of the leaders we work with. These are sometimes painful as they challenge deeply held beliefs, convictions and winning formulas. Many business leaders today deserve our sincere respect for the courage with which they move from distant, invulnerable, “logos only” directors towards engaging, inspiring and connecting conductors.

When thinking of a clip that could exemplify the leaders of tomorrow, I chose the one below, once sent by a reader of this blog. Determination, humility, exemplarity, vulnerability and charisma… You may be surprised by the comparison, but I found the hero here below to have a lot to do with us, busy leading in the years 2011 and beyond.

Today, we cannot expect our people to instantaneously jump on board of this new way of co-leading. During the 80’s/90’s (The “M.B.A. years”, the golden age of arrogant, distant, technocratic knowledge and content leaders) we have shown such a poor example of engagement. It is up to us now, by changing our style “from directors to conductors”, to engage our people, like the young boy on this clip.

Paris next week, things are back under control, my wife, has returned from Brasil…

Have a great week all

Didier

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2 Responses to “"Generation gap in leadership"”

  1. Great set of posts, definitely not a surprise you’ve been getting the interest and traction displayed now in numbers. I think an interesting generation gap in leadership is also driven by the fundamental change in the landscape. John Maeda talks a lot about authoritarian vs creative leadership. His slides on the topic can be found here: http://www.creativeleadership.com/slides-4 The emergence of social media and the shift of power from brands to consumers is also being reflected in the corporate space. The notion of a leader is evolving as the landscape involves, which makes this space even more exciting.

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