Saturday, July 14, 2007

Gen X, Gen Y, Failure of T&D?

I had a profound fear strike me on the issue of differences across the generations. Anyone who has read on this topic knows that there will be challenges in leading a diverse workforce made up of different generations. I alluded to this in an earlier post. The short issue statement is that generations differ on values due to the significant events we experience. Examples include the depression, WWII, Vietnam, Columbine, 9/11. The earlier post goes into it more, but an example would be G.I. Generation was known for their selflessness and commitment to society.

So what was so profound.. that I am now feeling inadequate as a leadership development expert. First what lead me to this thought... I have been reading and listening to famous speeches, stories and history on WWII, the pacific & D-Day for several days(See my last post). Coupled with some additional reading I had been doing on Martin Luther King and his Birmingham letter from prison... it struck me as strange the impact these stories had on my sense of who I was. I was too young or not even born then, but somehow I was able to relive these events. My sense of sacrifice.. what someone should face for the good of others was changing. Through study and experience with history, I was embracing the same values of the GI Generation.

My Fear: Are we missing this in programs we offer to young employees?

We know that these events helped form the value system of their generations. Values that future generations do not necessarily understand. For example, WWII vets came home with a new sense of citizenship. I am reminded of the story of John Brady, one of the flag raisers at Iwo Jima. He came home believing he an obligation to others because he survived when 1000s died taking the island. The question is why shouldn't other generations be exposed to these stories in a way that instills in them the same sense of citizenship. The same sense of it is not all about having fun.. or being able to do what you always want.

These significant events have taught their generations what is important to success and happiness. They have raised a consciousness among the generation.. but the lessons should be shared. Are we digging deeply enough in the personal development of these young employees? Will it will be years before they go through a leadership program where they are challenged by these sorts of stories? Are we even considering how important these stories are in our current leadership programs?


Kevin Gamble said...

Reading about things is not the same as experiencing them. In those examples you cite, those leaders were shaped by their experiences in a way that no training program could ever hope to emulate. Sure, we can read about them and have empathy, but that's not the same as having been there.

It would seem like a leadership program focused on younger employees would need to be sculpted around their own personal experiences to have meaning. That's what John Dewey would tell us anyway.

Just thinking out loud...

Mitch Owen said...

Kevin - Thanks for the comment. You make two excellent points.

The first I agree totally with.. that reading about something can never shape you as greatly as actually living through it.. but I do believe that experience history can still impact you in a way to yield benefits.

As for Dewey.. you are correct.. any leadership program that does not seek to link the message to someone's own personal experiences would be weak. Still, when I read about Iwo Jima and think about what it was like for my father-in-law (a part of my experiences) to see all that death. It becomes meaningful to my own journey.

Still another part of me thinks that this must be done especially well to work in a leadership development sense. A very difficult task!

Vince Verbeke said...

Ah... the glories of getting older.

Each older generation believes that the younger generation has it easier; or better somehow. And to some degree that may be true.

Keep in mind that this generation's "generational events" have occurred. We've had 9/11 and the current Iraqi/ Afghanistan wars. If you can't kick off a leadership discussion in a seminar on those topics, there's trouble out in the feedlot.

As I write that, I now that some will say the this generation has a virtual disconnect from current events (unless they follow Paris Hilton). So barriers will exist.

But I agree that you need to tap into their personal experiences. And the world is still full of events that you can use to that end.

I'll close with this...

"The important things are always simple; The simple things are always hard."