Leading Generation X: Do the Old Rules Apply?

By Rodriguez, Raul O.; Green, Mark T. et al. | Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Leading Generation X: Do the Old Rules Apply?


Rodriguez, Raul O., Green, Mark T., Ree, Malcolm James, Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies


The purpose of this study was to quantify the generational preferences for leadership behavior. The dependent variable was the preference of leadership behavior associated with generational themes. The five themes were: (a) Fulfillment, (b) Flexibility, (c) Technology, (d) Monetary Benefits, and (e) Work Environment. The independent variables were: (a) generation, (b) ethnicity, and (c) education. The quantitative data for the study was gathered through completed surveys from 805 participants. The cross-sectional design was used as the quantitative design. The MANOVA was used to contrast the dependent and independent variables. Significant differences were encountered at the p < .05 level. A difference in preference for leadership behavior was found between the baby boomers and generation X.

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Today, the workforce is dominated by two generations: (a) the baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 and (b) the Generation X (Gen Xers) or baby busters born between 1965 and 1979 (Loomis, 2000). A third generation is entering the workforce, Generation Y (Nexters) or the Internet Generation, the eldest of whom just turned 22.

For many, managing an emerging work force containing retiring Boomers, Generation Xers, and newly entering Nexters will be a challenge. About 76 million Americans were born between 1946 and 1964 (Rakoff, 2001). In 2003, the youngest will be 39 and the oldest 57 years old. By their sheer size, these baby boomers defined and redefined work for the last quarter of the 20th century (Joyner, 2000). As the oldest baby boomers retire, their effects on the overall economy and on certain occupations and industries will be substantial (Dohm, 2000).

The labor force is affected by the number of people retiring each year. This has a direct impact on the economy's capacity to produce goods and services. As boomers begin to collect Social Security, pensions, and other benefits, changes to both public and private retirement systems may occur, such as raising the ages of eligibility, creating flexible pension plans and altering employment practices (Purcell, 2000).

Market competition and demographic changes in the labor force are two of the forces challenging organizations to develop more effective leadership training, and implementation programs. Understanding more fully what traits or behaviors seem to be associated with how each baby boomers and Generation Xers perceives effective leadership will only be beneficial easing the transition as one group leaves and the other replaces it.

Preferred Leadership Traits or Behaviors

Mention the trait theory of leadership and listeners often shudder with sexist or racist visions associated with "the great man theory." This original notion of leadership traits had a tendency to focus too heavily on immutable biological characteristics such as sex, height, appearance, or physique. (Northouse, 2001). If one, however, widens the notion of leadership traits to include learnable behaviors, the theory might still be useful.

Research on traits spans the entire 20th century; an overview of the trait approach can be found in two assessments conducted by Stogdill (1948, 1974). In the 1948 study Stogdill analyzed and synthesized more than 124 trait studies that were conducted between 1904 and 1947. In a second study, he analyzed 163 studies that were completed between 1948 and 1970. His first assessment identified a group of leadership traits that were related to how individuals in various groups became leaders. The average individual in a leadership role was different from an average group member in the following ways: The leader was (a) intelligent, (b) alert, (c) shows insight, (d) responsible, (e) takes initiative, (f) persistence, (g) self-confidence, and (h) sociable (Northouse, 2001).

In Stogdill's second assessment, ten characteristics were identified as being associated with leadership. They are: (a) drive for responsibility and task completions, (b) vigor and persistence in pursuit of goals, (c) venturesomeness and originality in problem solving, (d) drive to exercise initiative in social situations, (e) self-confidence and sense of personal identity, (f) willingness to accept consequences of decisions, (g) readiness to absorb interpersonal stress, (h) willingness to tolerate frustration and delay, (i) ability to influence other persons' behavior, and (j) capacity to structure social interaction systems to the purpose at hand. …

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