BisWere 09-02-033

We're In This Boat Together

Leadership Succession Between the Generations


Camille F. Bishop

Authentic, 2008, 203 pp., ISBN 978-1-934068-37-3



Camille Bishop teaches courses on education and leadership for the University of the Nations, Azusa Pacific University, Indiana Wesleyan University and Campbell University.  She has interacted with educators, government officials and non-profit agencies in sixty nations. 


Four individuals from four generations go on a team-building rafting trip.  Their relationships and responses to the challenges of the rapids form the metaphor for the fictional Handover Corporation going through leadership transition.


Four adult generations are represented in the workplace today.  Each generation has its unique leadership values and behaviors.  Appreciating diversity and learning the right skills can bring unity and strength to tackle the white waters of leadership succession.


Our perception of leadership is linked to our generation. 

n  The Silent Generation, born 1925 - 1942, was born during the Great Depression, sandwiched between the first and second world wars.

n  Boomers (1943-1960) were raised in an era of progress, opportunity & optimism.

n  Gen Xers (1961-1981) were raised in an era of growing technology and two career parents.

n  Millennials (1982-2002) grew up with technology and the internet.

Each generation grew up in a different world and sees life differently.  (9-10)


Part One - Reality of the Rapids

1.  I'll Guide the Raft - The General Goes to the Helm

The world of the Silent Generation was characterized by morality, duty, self-denial, hard work, and integrity.  Marriage was for a lifetime and men protected women.  Gratification was delayed.  Security and safety were high values.  Authority was respected.  Leaders focused on getting things done.  Organizational loyalty was high.  Your work was your life. 


2.  Give Me the Oar - The Boomer Knows Best

Early Boomers grew up expecting the best in life.  They want to make something happen and believe they can make a difference.  Overachievers, they desire stuff, promotion, titles and status. 


Late boomers experienced massive social decline, higher crime rates, escalating divorces, being home alone.  They became strong, responsible individuals emphasizing personal rights and freedoms.  They are more relaxed and cynical and distrust authority.  They tend toward debt and immediate gratification. 


3.  Let's Collaborate - Group Decisions Are Better

Gen Xers, children of the Boomers, experienced social decline, high divorce rates, and broken homes.  With much freedom as children they filled the time with media and pop culture.  They were aware of child poverty, crime and homelessness resulting in a deep loneliness and yearning for community.  Their economic outlook is dismal, forever paying off Boomer debts.  They are entrepreneurial, high tech, highly educated, but build their skills through a sequence of jobs.  They have little patience with bureaucracy, are cautious with authority and willing to give respect only where it is earned. They continue in personal debt and feel entitled to all their parents have.  They tend to live for the moment and buy-now pay-later.  They want boundaries between work and life, making the latter more important.  They desire training, mentoring, variety and continued opportunities.


4.  Whatever - We Could Have a Virtual Experience

Protective parents sheltered, educated, and sacrificed for these kids.  Their self-esteem has been cultivated and they have been highly scheduled with extracurricular activities.  Many are confident and optimistic while others are stressed and overwhelmed by options.  They are ultimate consumers, expecting a lot of return for little effort, defensive toward criticism, demanding luxury, and expecting instant gratification.  However, there is a surge of volunteerism and rapid mobilization. 


Many have delayed entry to adulthood, living with parents, bouncing between jobs and hopping between partners.  While expenses have soared, debt has become the accepted norm.  They see the world as dangerous and rely on technology and interactive media as the fast lane.  No long-term commitments, they desire a variety of experiences, freedom, and flexibility.  They expect inclusive leadership and lots of feedback. 


Part Two - Formation of a Rapid

5. Turbulence - Four Streams Merging

6.  Big Mama - Authority and Respect

For the Silent Generation, leadership was shaped by the military.  It can be described as strong and authoritarian and characterized by duty, commitment, perseverance, and morality.  The Early Boomers are similar, concerned with responsibility, duty, loyalty, control, and obligation.  The boss is the decision maker.  By contrast the Late Boomers question authority and may be cynical or angry. They want to be included in decisions and be free to disagree.  The Gen Xers and Millennials have a greater desire for relationships and collaboration and exercise a cautious respect for authority.  The words authority and respect have a different meaning for the younger generation.


7.  Disaster Falls - Leadership Styles

For the Silent Generation leadership is top-down, command-and-control, characterized by clear vision and direction and decisive decisions.  Young Boomers and Gen Xers are more inclusive, team players who are relationship-oriented.  They want to come alongside and be transparent, caring, empowering, genuine, and hands off.  For Gen Xers and Millennials collaboration is foremost.  Millennials want leaders who care about them personally.  To keep younger employees, you may need to make many compromises.


8.  Lost Paddle - Who Wants to Be a Leader?

Gen Xers have mixed feelings about assuming leadership, many of them uncomfortable and negative.  They are cautious and want to specify conditions, preferring to assume leadership gradually.  And many do not want to be tied down.


9.  Bus Stop - Balancing Task and Relationship

10.  Table Saw - Character of a Leader

"Charisma becomes the undoing of leaders.  It makes them inflexible, convinced of their own infallibility, unable to change." (116, quoting Peter Drucker)


Character is crucial for leadership but it means slightly different things to the different generations.  To the Silents it means integrity, faithfulness, self-control and foresight.  For the Boomers and Gen Xers, credibility is a major requirement.  Gen Xers stressed caring concern, encouragement, love, humility, servanthood, teachability, and integrity.  Millennials voted for dedication and personal care.


11.  Handing Over the Rudder - Letting Go of Control

Two key questions are who should succeed the leader and how does the outgoing leader relinquish control?  The latter is even more profound for an outgoing founder.  Advance planning and a leadership transition proposal are required.  Mentoring is needed, including the passing on of beliefs and values.  The strong culture left behind by the founder is a particular challenge.  The founder can be tempted to step back in too quickly if he doesn't like what he sees.


"Knowledge is power.  Do not keep it to yourselves.  Collaborative leadership requires sharing information."  (124)  


Part Three.  Navigating the Rapids

12.  Tossed Out of the Boat - Transition Gone Awry

Transitions include human fallout.  Change occurs externally but internal transition includes powerful emotions expressed in a variety of ways and these must be navigated. Emotions, grief, losses, and opinions must be processed.  Some people remain depressed for a long time and come out of it tentative and fearful.  If the process breaks down people fail to commit, avoid accountability and decline in productivity. 


13.  Who Has the Rudder? - Transition Can Be Chaotic

14.  Staying in the Raft - Good Transitions are Possible but They Must Be Deliberate

"…a successful leadership transition requires clarity of organizational vision, a definitive leadership succession plan, concrete ways to consider people in the process, and a strategy to deal with the unique generations working within the organization." (179)


What was the original vision and how has it changed?  Does it fit with current global trends?  Is the organization thriving?  Where are the greatest challenges?  What is the strategy for the future? (159) "The entire organization may need to be reexamined for relevance."  "…ask the hard questions." (160) 


"…leaders should plan, communicate, and manage the period of leadership transition."  (161)  What is the strategy?  What about the organizational culture?  Which generations are represented?  How will you pass along the skills and knowledge for the next generation leaders? 


 "…consider the people who will be affected by the change." (163)  How will you consider the human factor in your plans?  How multigenerational is your organization?  How are you helping them understand each other?  Do you need to make the workplace more cross-generational?  (165) 


15.  Handing Over the Oar - Others Have Done It; You Can Do It Too

16.  Finishing the Course - Successful Changeover

OM Success story.  When the founder steps aside, a long transition can help.  It gives substantial time within the organization for communication and processing.


"The biggest challenge in missions leadership today [is] incorporating the Global South, with their styles and giftings. (183, quoting Peter Maiden)



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