Is There an Influence of Era on Leadership Values and Behaviors?

This blog is a companion blog on leadership skills: The Power of Personal Leadership - It Starts with You.

This blog specifically explores the potential of generational influence on leadership values and behaviors. To what extent do political, cultural, and socio-economic contexts of an era impact the collective values and behaviors of future leaders and, as a result, their preferences and worldviews?

Co-authors Bennis and Thomas of "Geeks & Geezers: How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders, Harvard Business School Press, 2002” were convinced that the era a person lives in has a profound influence on their leadership values and behaviors. They compared the effect of era on two different groups: a group that grew up digital, called "Geeks" (average age 28) and a group that reached adulthood during the Great Depression and World War II, called "Geezers" (average age 77). They interviewed a total of 43 participants between the ages of 21 and 93 over a two-year period.

The researchers found four major differences between the two groups in terms of worldview and expectations at similar points in their lives, i.e. between the ages of 25 and 30. In fact, they compared the effects of era on two groups of young people, one group that was 25-30 years old in 1950 (approximately) and the other that was 25-30 years old in 2000. The differences were as follows:

  1. Geeks set bolder and more ambitious goals than geezers at the age of 25-30... and they were eager to reach them. They aspired to make history, to literally transform the world beyond their own backyard, and to rewrite the rules of education, medicine and politics. By the age of 30, most geezers were focused on earning a living and securing a strong hold on the American Dream for themselves and their families.
  2. Geeks placed more emphasis on balancing work, family and personal life than did geezers at a comparable age. No issue divided geeks from geezers more strongly than the importance of striking a healthy work-life balance. Not that geeks thought it would be easy to "have it all," but they were willing to try. While women geeks were more vocal about aspiring to a more vibrant life, men expressed a clear desire for balance. At the same age, geezers were far more focused on launching their careers and starting families.
  3. Geeks were less likely than geezers to have heroes or follow prominent role models. The “universal heroes” of the 1940s and 1950s (e.g. F.D.R., Churchill, etc) recognized by Time magazine, provided geezers with powerful role models. Although, geeks felt inundated with celebrities, they could only name a few public heroes. Rather, geeks admired and sought out role models closer to home: parents, coaches, teachers, mentors,.. For geeks, the real heroes are leaders who work with their followers as close allies.
  4. There are also differences between the two groups in terms of approach to “decision-making”. In the past, business schools taught legions of geezers a basic method for decision making - the so-called "OODA loop" model, originally developed by the military to adjust strategies to constantly changing environments. It is a continuous process of "Observing, Orienting, Deciding and Acting", aimed at moving from observation to action as quickly as possible. Faced with increasingly chaotic and unusual settings, geeks opt for experimentation to advance knowledge and apply what we call "ALA" for Act, Learn, Adapt.

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