Boomer Executives: Will Leading Differently Today Improve the Legacy You Leave Tomorrow?

By Paul Aakerøy (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
Do you remember the good old days when it was easier to make money? The world was simpler, less challenging and more predictable? If you are an executive Boomer it is likely you would prefer returning back to the past. Then, systems and processes led to lucrative outcomes. But change is intense and coming from many directions. It all adds up to a more complex world.

Many Millennials and new hires working in Boomer executive lead companies are puzzled. Why are the cogs in the wheel working so hard? What is the point and purpose? Why are change agents creating resistance? Why are companies asking for innovation and creativity but making risk adverse decisions? Why are Boomer executives aiming for retirement leaving the company on idle and exposed to the risk of failure? Is it fear?

Why is the mantra ‘you’ll get used to it’ persistently used to explain doing things that don’t work in today’s economy? Is the idea that everyone become a zombie? Is waiting for Boomers to retire a viable strategy?

People aren’t equipped to deal with the changing world either inside or outside the company boundaries. Awareness of the need to step back and rethink management decisions is slowly creeping above the horizon. Amidst the familiar call for product and process innovation, people are forgotten. Fundamental human needs, at the heart of design thinking, are being overlooked. Yet it is the power of the human spirit that could save the day.

What legacy do you want to leave? How are you leading your company into the future today? Will leading differently improve your legacy?

Voices of protest can be heard mumbling away.

Voice #1: “Change is for the young. I’ve paid my dues. Now I just want to enjoy life.”

Voice #2: “If I can just hang on until my retirement all will be well.”

Voice #3: “I have no idea how I’m going to retire and I have no idea how I’m going to keep working. It is killing me. I am a victim of circumstance.”

Boomer’s were taught that life is a runway. Waiting for you at some magical age on the runway is retirement and financial freedom. The idea is to get there. You have accumulated the material possessions. Next on the list is to have the freedom to do what you want to feel fulfilled. Most leave work to find it. Business leaders can do a lot better.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Check Stop #1: Expectations for retirement don’t match the funds available. Andrew Eschtruth, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College and co-author of “Falling Short: The Coming Retirement Crisis and What to Do About It” points out chances are you’ll have to work longer. “If everybody worked until age 70, about 80 percent of people would be able to maintain their standard of living in retirement.” Seventy six million baby Boomers are on their way to the destination called “Stay at work much longer.”

Retirement is not an escape hatch for avoiding today’s challenges.

Check Stop #2: Basic human needs drive at least three things: 1) meaning 2) purpose 3) flexibility and autonomy.

When work has no meaning, lacks in purpose, or autonomy, retirement looks like a dream destination. However, the assumption that meaning, purpose and flexibility are waiting for you on retirement is just that. An assumption. Don’t count on it.

If I were watching and waiting for the senior executives who, by all accounts, fail to see the epic change pressuring their companies to adapt, I’d be concerned. Seriously concerned.

Activating the human spirit to do and be better for the world

What’s the good news? Adversity is an outstanding accelerator for growth and creativity. Releasing untapped potential. Tackle the big challenges that affect us all. Together. Use the leadership talent at every level. And make money.

The Leadership Opportunity for Boomer Executives

What’s life like inside a company led by management clinging tightly to the past?

Dan Pontefract cites Kalixa Pro, a U.K.-based firm’s findings “that 49% of workers were so unhappy with their place of work that they believed their career choice was a mistake. An additional 24% were so disillusioned that they admitted to describing themselves as poor employees.” That is disconcerting. The legacy is already tarnished.

What if the aim of executive leadership was to make a bigger contribution — to business being better?

What’s certain is that the outside world is changing fast. The economy is transitioning from linear to exponential growth. But decision-makers stick to linear thinking. Foresight and insight is unavailable when crisis or complacency dominates focus. Industrial era thinking clashes with creative thinking. Growth grinds to a halt — growth that benefits everyone including shareholders.

Stepping into the breach between the past and tomorrow takes courage. It is the chance to craft a fulfilling life with meaning and purpose. Growth doesn’t come from protecting existing successes. Truly inspired growth has a much bigger goal in mind.

What bigger goal might inspire you?

And what will your legacy be?

· He bailed just before the ship went down.

· Or he inspired us all to lead.

Simple steps toward resilient leadership:

1. Gain greater comfort with uncertainty. You don’t need 100% certainty. In fact to win at high stakes poker 25% is enough.

2. Choose growth. Step outside of your comfort zone. Trust that you know how to bounce better than anyone. Start simple. Even by listening to what is not being said you gain insight.

3. Partner with employees, especially outliers (those not schooled in the industrially saturated MBA thinking). Millennials who see the big picture; new hires who see more objectively come to mind. Gain insight from fresh eyes and diverse perspectives.

From the outside it’s easy to see that the big companies are failing fast. Perhaps it is a necessary fall. And how many interconnected companies will fall with them?

The Boomer generation didn’t create Industrial age beliefs about the world of work but they did adopt them. Boomers also lived through Woodstock, LSD, Timothy Leary and the Vietnam War. Can Boomer executives draw on those roots to become catalysts for business transformation?

Is it possible that executives from the Boomer generation will remember how good it feels to leave a legacy worth talking about? I, for one, am hopeful.

What do you say?

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