Saturday, January 13, 2007


(News-Herald, January 11)Passing the mantle of leadership can be a big generational challenge.
Barack Obama has been clear about analyzing his own appeal, which he seems to feel rooted in a generational boomer-fatigue.
That’s sad for the boomers—if Obama or one of his cohort win the White House, that will mean that the boomers provided the nation with a grand total of two Presidents, leaving them far in the dust of virtually every other American generation. That would be a boomer bummer, because we planned to permanently remake the world in our collective image.
And yet Bush and Clinton embody much of what is obnoxious about the boomers. Boomers specialize in a kind of single-minded righteousness, a sort of philosophical deep-seated double-jointedness. We know what we want, and we do what we want, but we always have a profound deep sincere righteous reason that we should get to.
So whether it’s hiding from the draft or using money to avoid responsibility or cheating on the wife or starting a war you’re clueless about how to finish, a boomer can make it all okay. At least, in his own head.
At our worst, boomers talk a good game of Right and Wrong, but somehow end up doing whatever we want to do anyway. The current political spectacle—Bush II forced to ask his dad’s friends of the Iraq commission to help sort out his mess, while the younger generation is already agitating for a new broom to sweep clean—may seem uncomfortably familiar to many boomers. Our parents still providing practical clean-up for our zealously idealistic messes, while our children wonder if we’re going to leave them anything in unbroken condition.
Well, if the younger generations find their elders obnoxious now, wait till the boomers finish retiring and decide that the Right Thing To Do is for taxes on investments and homes to be cut while working folks pick up the slack.
Of course, not all transitions in leadership are about the boomers (as much as we boomers have trouble believing that anything could be Not About Us).
Last week’s column about the Franklin Club’s financial problems had barely hit the newsstands before folks were reminding me of some earlier chapters in Club history. For instance, there still seems to be a bit of testiness out there about the Club’s reluctance to recruit and retain junior members back in the 1970’s. As some folks remember it, Club Elders considered proposals to try recruiting a younger wave of future members, but decided that young’uns could jolly well come ask to get in when they’d worked hard and proved they deserved it.
Groups in Venangoland sometimes have trouble handing the baton to the younger runners in the pack.
It’s not that they don’t want the young folks around—the younger generation is perfectly welcome to join in, as long as they don’t raise a fuss, don’t talk back to their elders, and promise to do everything exactly the way the older generation has always done it.
It’s not that the older generation wants to hold onto the power; they just want to be sure that everything is going to go on properly (“properly” being defined as “the way we would do it ourselves”).
There are plenty of churches around that have traveled to the brink of extinction with this formula—they’re perfectly willing to reach out to young people, as long as the young people prove that they’re the Right Kind of Young People.
Not that the issue doesn’t have some of its good points. I’m pushing fifty, but there are still places where I’m considered one of the Young Fellas.
And it’s not entirely the older generation’s fault, either. Sometimes the younger generation has a tendency to sit sheeplike, feet propped up and comfy, congratulating itself on having the good sense to have older folks around to take care of business. It’s haard to pass the baton to people who have their hands in their pockets.
Sometimes the younger generation does actually goober things up. Someone who is more ambitious than smart, more interested in winning the role than in knowing how to fill it, will often make a mess worse than any reluctant retiree ever imagined.
But that should be the exception, not the rule. One of the most basic responsibilities of leadership is to find and prepare your eventual replacement because (hot flash here) you will not be there forever. Even if you’re a boomer and you’re prepared to rule the roost until the end of time.

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