Retiring the Generation GAP | How Employees Young and Old Can Find Common Ground  | Book Review

Summary Comments

Jennifer Deal’s 2007 work seeks to understand causes of “The Generation Gap,” with mixed results. On page one, she opens:

1)   Fundamentally, people want the same things, no matter what generation they are from.

2)   You can work with (or manage) people from all generations effectively without becoming a contortionist, selling your soul on eBay, or pulling your hair out on a daily basis.

On pages 223-4 (Appendix C), forty leadership attributes are listed, including rather abstract terms such as “wholesome,” “internationally resilient,” “global leadership image,” and durable. The list of fourteen frequent client questions on page 2 and common findings regarding who has clout and who wants it (page 11) suggest that in a search for a “Generation Gap,” the author primarily highlights management vs. leadership issues.

The Ten Principles

Ten chapters, listed as numbered principles with corresponding common generational perceptions, comprise the body of the book. These ten chapters are summarized on pages 30, 50, 71, 83, 99, 116-7, 143, 171, 193 and 209, respectively.

In the Principle 1 Chapter (page 21), the author states the equivalent of Academy Leadership’s Platinum Rule – treat others as they wish to be treated rather than the way we want to be treated. Ms. Deal’s research suggests that one of the sharpest generational gaps is the silent generation’s (born between 1925 and 1945) projection of The Golden Rule (e.g. The Way We Did It) onto younger generation’s desire for The Platinum Rule (e.g. The Way We Want to Be Treated).  This is one example of a fundamental leadership issue introduced as a generational gap issue.

Likewise, in the Principle 2 Chapter (page 38), Ms. Deal writes, “The reality is that management and leadership today require more than just a command-and-control approach.” This is very similar to our fundamental discussions comparing authority and leadership. The Principle 5 Chapter about organizational politics declares politics a problem, without separating the difference between positive influence and manipulative influence. This may lead an emerging leader to mistakenly believe all influence is negative.

In the Principle 7 Chapter, page 135, the collapse of the “implicit work contract,” is described as a chasm separating Gen Xers from the other generations. This type of finding, describing context as a gap source rather than age, is where the book is strongest.

Finally, the Principle 9 Chapter (from pages 173-4) may be summarized as “People Want Leadership Training.” Even more so (page 182), respondents wish to practice leadership.

The Next Step Forward

Overall, Jennifer Deal’s book highlights the need for improved communication processes, in particular applying The Platinum Rule as a leader, rather than The Golden Rule as a command and control authoritarian. Lastly, Retiring the Generation Gap is an (unintentional) exponent for multi-generational teams to conduct fundamental examination of individual expectations and instinctive needs, or for an Academy Leadership Energize2Lead™ Workshop, perhaps with groups separated by generations to draw out both fundamental perceptional differences and the numerous common values validated by her statistical findings.

JE | April 2013