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Generational Leadership

It can be difficult to talk about, one generation's leadership style as compared to another. We tend to compare, contrast, and then judge. Of course, our generation’s style usually comes out as the best. It is difficult to be fair. Allow me to point out some observations in generational leadership that we all can observe and hopefully learn from. I will compare the Builder, Boomer and Buster generations. If you are unsure of these ages, contact George Barna at

Lonely at the top
The builder generation somewhat created this label as they sometimes took pride in being “the final decision maker, or the final authority.” What it produced many times was a single decision maker that took the power and the pressure of being the leader on their shoulders. This made the leadership a very lonely situation at times. The boomer leader found this lonliness somewhat distasteful and unnecessary. The idea of being removed from other staff members was not an embraced concept. They also found that staff satisfaction and productivity suffered as a result of this isolationist leadership.

Team Leadership
The builder leader did not use the term team when referring to the staff or subordinates. They were staff and they had a job to do. Yes, they were appreciated and even loved, but the term was not often used. The boomers used the team term to create a more participatory style of working situation. In a team, everyone is valuable. In a team, you take care of one another, not just your own position. They younger busters EXPECT a team situation. If it is not there, they judge the leadership style to not value people and their gifts. Therefore, they wonder if their contribution will be valued.

Tradition and Breaking all the rules
Builders value tradition. In their leadership style, tradition has been earned. It is an expectation that they will move up the organization chart, or get the next promotion, or be considered for the next project. Boomers are in-between on tradition. They value it and find honor in traditional aspects of the ministry, but also respect change. The busters have a tendency to disrespect tradition. They have been known to want to change something just because it was traditional. This is confusing to many builder and boomer leaders and causes them to be cautious of promoting buster leaders to positions of authority before they have been tested.

Boomers and busters look at authority as a huge responsibility. They do not always want the authority and in some cases have turned down promotions because it had too much authority. The builders saw authority as a rite of passage and very seldom refused to take on new and more authority.

Expertise and Knowledge
It was very common for the builder leaders to have come up through the ranks. They know how to do almost every job. The old saying “if you want it done right, do it yourself” was seen as a positive statement. Today, many leaders come in laterally or from another profession and do not know every aspect of the organization and its departments. They desire to become expert leaders and disciplers and not necessarily know how to do everyone’s job. They rely on the “experts” they have hired to do the front line jobs.

Followers and Following
Being a follower was part of the process to builders. They had to be disciplined and obedient as a follower before they were allowed to become leaders. Busters sometimes will be very particular in whom they decide to follow. It may be determined by style, gender or job description. But becoming a follower is not automatic. This is very disconcerting to the builder and boomer leader.

A Calling and Time of Service
Builders sensed a calling to leadership. This can be true of boomers and busters as well but different definitions. While a builder would sense the spiritual call to leadership as a “go at all costs” commitment, boomers and busters would not agree. Salary, opportunity for advancement, and position make a difference are much more important. Another aspect is how long the calling is for. Builders can consider it lasting until God calls you elsewhere. Boomers value time as a key ingredient in the position and may set a time limit immediately. Also, boomers and busters change positions much more frequently than builders. This is a common belief that they want to do many things in their lifetime of leadership.

Concluding Thoughts
As you can read, there are many characteristics that are general in scope and others more specific. Some fit most of the generation’s leaders, others may fit only a segment of the generation. In trying to understand how our leadership styles are formed based on when we were born and raised, we can better understand how to develop our leadership abilities and impact our followers in a more productive and effective way.

John R. Frank is President of John R. Frank Consulting Group. He is a Certified Fund Raising Executive and holds a master's degree in Philanthropy and Development.

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