Generational Leadership: Boomers, X'ers, Millenials
and Why Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Isnt Getting You There (Part 2 of 3)
Richard Pierce Thomas
Leadership and Small Business Consultant

Continuing from Part 1 where we heard from Ed, the owner of a family manufacturing business who was at loggerheads with his son Brian over changes he was making in the business. Following is Brian's version of events:

"...I'll be damned if I'm going to let him run this thing into the ground. There's too much at stake..."

"I'm sure that's not his intent, though it may feel that way," I assured Ed. "Give me time to get with Brian and we'll regroup and see how we can get some alignment on these issues."

I headed toward the customer service offices, where I found Brian leaning over Peggy's shoulder, a long-time employee of the company. They were staring at her computer with several of the other account reps gathered around.

"Once the video is uploaded, hit preview and if it looks good, choose accept and you're done. You now have a personal video message on your profile page," Brian explained to Peggy.

"Well, that looked easy," one of the reps in the back of the group commented. Several others nodded in agreement.

"Great. We'll do the rest tomorrow," he finished as he motioned for me to follow him into his office.

"The old man must've called you," Brian said with a wary smile as he shut the door.

"Yeah, he's pretty worked up. I wanted to get your take. Does now work?"

"You bet," he said, sitting down. "Okay, Rick, give it to me straight. Am I out of a job?" We both laughed. He knew Ed better than that.

"You tell me," I replied. "Should he fire you?"

"Sometimes I wonder," he mused. "Just when I think we are getting somewhere, he jumps down my throat about the changes we've made. When I dig to the bottom of it, the source always seems to be one of his old cronies complaining about the streamlining we are doing in the plant. I can't believe I'm dealing with this stuff. I told myself when I left for college that I'd have to be nuts to come back to the family business. Now look at me. I don't think I can be who Dad wants me to be...which is him! What worked for him to build the business in the 70s hardly works anymore. For crying out loud, it's 2011 now and half the people here can hardly send an email.

And we've got even bigger problems that Dad doesn't like to admit. We haven't added new markets in years, the customer base is shrinking and offshore competition is killing our margins. Level with me, Rick, are other businesses dealing with these issues?"

"Believe me, you guys are not the only ones," I reassured him. "There is a significant transition taking place, and not just in the family business. The transition from your dad's generation, the Baby Boomers to Gen-X and Gen-Y is definitely in process. There are significant challenges to business succession that most owners are struggling to deal with."

"Okay, but what do we do about it? I can't take much more of this."

"We start by understanding what the issues are and how the generational differences are influencing them. From what I can tell, you've been dealing with symptoms but not the root cause."

"Tell me about it," he snorted. "I feel like I've been hitting a brick wall for the last six months. Dad fights me on everything and it's starting to affect things at home."

"To start, the three of us need to get offsite to unpack the issues. We need at least a full day to have meaningful progress."

Brian groaned, tossing his pen on the desk. "Okay, you are the expert. Let's do this thing."

We set a date for later in the month and confirmed with Ed.

Look for Part 3 in next month's article on Generational Leadership and hear how Ed and Brian worked through the generational challenges they were dealing with.

Rick P. Thomas is President of Activate Leadership, a leadership development consultancy in Washington State. He consults and speaks to organizations across the country, focusing on individual and organizational achievement.

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