Gen-Y: How will generational perceptions of leadership influence the management landscape?
January 05, 2012
With the passing of the proverbial torch to younger generations, it's important to think about the idea of leadership, namely the different perceptions that exist between age groups. As the baby boomer generation continues to retire, many companies are facing succession crises and leadership gaps, as many of the business world's top executives are among this cohort.
According to a report released this week by Deloitte, roughly one-third of surveyed executives - 30 percent - cited leadership development and succession planning as today's top talent priority - the highest of any response in the study.
"Talent leaders in today's business environment are taking responsibility for their futures by focusing investments and capabilities on rebuilding and developing new talent programs for leaders and critical employees within their organizations," said Alice Kwan, a principal at Deloitte Consulting.
But does this focus on leadership development miss the point? After all, this is to assume that a hierarchical structure is a necessary component of any business. More importantly, it is to suggest that younger generations are as disposed to leader-based organization as older generations. However, if anything has been learned from the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is disproportionately comprised of Gen-Y members, it's that young people are less focused on leadership than their parents.
"Occupy Wall Street and its cousins around the world actively eschewed leaders, and relied on a community-oriented consensus model to reach decisions," explains Darren Barefoot on his eponymous blog. "There's a cliche about Generation Y that they were raised on teamwork and consensus building, where everybody got a ribbon on Sports Day and nobody counted goals at their soccer games. Does Occupy reflect these values?"
Of course, it could be argued that leadership and hierarchy are almost natural to the human condition - a sort of default organization status. Or not. Is it not possible that this trend could change over time? More importantly, what does this mean for the emerging succession crisis in the U.S.? How does Generation X compare to those below and above them when it comes to leadership?
At this point, the conversation is mere conjecture. But it's worth reflecting on how generational attitudes toward leadership will influence tomorrow's management styles and corporate structures.