Boomers Leading in a Volatile Time Like This

Boomers Leading in a Volatile Time Like This

July 19, 2021 News


A month ago I wrote a post entitled, “Have you ever seen a time like this?” and described the intense and pervasive inter-generational conflict I am seeing with all my clients, as well as at Berkeley and in my personal life. I shared data and offered some hypotheses. I held off on offering prescriptions but promised they would come.

Then two things happened. First, I had a crazy bike accident that literally knocked me out. And the concussion knocked me off my game – for weeks. Second, like hitting the asphalt – I hit an intellectual wall on this topic and didn’t see a way around.  I have had one consistent intuition: I can speak to my boomer peeps. I will do that now. But I am choosing not to speak to the younger gens. I’ve asked Laura and Ashton, my co-founders to speak to their younger cohort; they will take up the topic in the coming weeks.

What can we – those largely still in authority – do in response to the insistent cries from the younger generations that we “don’t get it?” Well, get it. Get them. Hard stop.

Really hard stop for me.

This requires huge effort in three directions.

  1. See, own and reject my own group identity. I don’t have to reject the ideas or principles of my Catholicism, patriotism, realism, progressivism, maleness, traditionalism, or even leadership expertise. These ideas and principles largely work for me, because they help me understand the world (that seems increasingly fragmented, dangerous, etc.). But when I have to defend them because they are me, when my ideology(ies) are me, when “my people” and thought systems are perceived to be under attack…what does that do to my mindset in dialogue? It puts me in a mindset that I must defend, because others are attacking me and mine.  This to me is the defining, underlying state of our times. If I must be right – even while I attack “them” for being PC, i.e., thinking they are right – the game is over and lost. We can’t talk about guns, covid, abortion, race, liberty, gender fluidity,  or anything else that’s challenging, because our survival brains require us to defend “our” ideas, people, group identity. The second area of effort follows easily enough:
  2. “Let” people – as if I could prevent them – have their own opinions. And get curious about them. Ask a million caring and curious questions.
  3. Especially as an elder, still in power, I must continually remember that ALL change comes from disruption. Every great leader – in art, science, business, politics and even religion – was a prophet of some kind. If you don’t believe me, tell me an exception. And all systems – and all people in power – innately create order, but that order is never quite right. So, challenge – as an intellectual phenomenon – is a huge good, because it points to blind spots, anomalies, things we’d rather not pay attention to. Listening to challenge is thus an expansive act.

I suspect you feel – as I admit I do – “BUT, BUT, BUT – surely there must be more?” Maybe not. Maybe a lot of us just need to listen – and thus learn – a whole lot more and better.  Don’t ever underestimate great listening! For what it brings to the listener and what it brings to the speaker. Maybe together we can create something better, together.

Let go to lead with your best self.

About the author

Dan Mulhern: Dan Mulhern is a nationally recognized expert in the fields of leadership and organizational culture.

Top