Volume XIII | Issue 2 | Fall 2013
Diverging leadership styles between generations of men is nothing new.

Between generations

Leadership styles diverge between father and son

Newberg High School student Dylan Beam sees a distinct difference between the way he operates in leadership situations and the way his dad, David Beam, leads. The father-son team are currently practicing their skills in the Ford Institute Leadership Program in Newberg.

Man and boy work on a carDylan and David Beam of Newberg are currently participating in the Ford Institute Leadership Program.

 “I feel like my brain is a little more free than his,” Dylan says of his dad, who is the city of Newberg’s economic development planner. “I’m more abstract. I’m a big-picture kind of guy, and he seems more interested in all the details that go along with that.”

Dylan, 15, sees the differences as an extension of their personalities and occupations, but he also says they reflect a generational trend. 

Today’s younger leaders are widely perceived as more flexible and collaborative than the older, more authoritative and more traditional generation of leaders.

Diverging leadership styles between generations of men is nothing new. Part of it is just the steady march of time that changes perspective. 

“Younger, more flexible leaders are going to be the rigid leaders in 40 to 50 years,” says Max Gimbel, associate director of the Ford Institute for Community Building

Still, members of today’s younger generation are markedly different in the way they lead, with the shift illustrated in a recent survey by the Ford Institute, which asked respondents to describe older and younger generations of male leaders. 

Leading the list as the most-mentioned adjective for the grandfather generation was “Strong,” followed by “Dominant” and “Authoritative.” 

“Authoritative” also showed up the next-generation list, but farther down. The most-mentioned adjective for the next generation of male leaders was “Open-minded,” followed by “Collaborative,” “Flexible,” “Authoritative” and “Inclusive.”

Changing leadership

Gimbel says, broadly speaking, he sees a little more rigidity in some of the older leaders and a little more flexibility in the younger ones. He attributes that in part to the shifting role of men in society. “The older generation of male leaders is seen as more decisive,” he says. “But the identity of being a male leader is not just about being a breadwinner anymore. It’s more fluid, with male retreats, men doing more household chores, and more women being the primary breadwinners. It is just an evolution of how we are changing, and it mirrors society.”

There is indeed a generational gap

Leadership Program participant Maurizio Valerio agrees. Valerio was part of the 2005 Baker County cohort. He then  worked as a trainer in the 2012 cohort that included his son, Marco. “There is indeed a generational gap,” says Valerio. “I need a constant reminder of the new style. The new generation has never known the old ways of my father and grandfather.

“I think the new generation is demonstrating more inclusive, participatory leadership as opposed to the older, more authoritative style.”

Besides being instructional, the Valerios’ participation in the Leadership Program was a good time. “It was fun sharing the floor with my son and watching his style, the way he related to other participants, the way he facilitated the first class meetings,” Valerio says. “It was an experience that brought us closer.”

David Beam, Dylan’s dad, says he sees leaders changing their styles to adapt to today’s society. “The good ones do,” he says in an email. “They bring in good team players, lead by example, develop a team approach to work and find out what people’s interests and passions are, and then find ways that allow them to develop those passions and be fulfilled. 

“That is the best way to achieve an organization’s highest potential. Those who do not will likely fall short.”

Research results

It’s not just a generational change that offers differences in leadership styles. The gender difference is also well documented. For example, the Ford Institute Leadership Program training focuses on group dynamics, relationship building and networking, which Gimbel calls “soft skills,” and which research has shown to be attractive to women. That may explain, in part, why women make up 65% of participants of the Leadership Program. Men, on the other hand, are thought to be more results-oriented and focused on results. 

“Many of our projects in the Leadership Program are around family and youth, and downtown beautification,” Gimbel says. “With more males, we might focus more on economic development and things similar.”

But even that gender generalization is changing today to mirror societal changes. There is a new emphasis on soft skills, due to an economy driven by service jobs rather than manufacturing work, which called for a skill set that tended to fall heavily along traditional gender-lines.

In the Journal of College Student Development, researcher John P. Dugan looked at the difference in leadership between college men and women. In industrial times, Dugan says society’s understanding of leadership was dominated by the idea of a single individual as leader who was in command, controlling and got things done in an autocratic style. 

Today, Dugan writes that leaders who succeed are more democratic and “grounded in human relations and characterized by shared goals. This post-industrial perspective is process-oriented, transformative, value-centered, non-coercive, and collaborative.”

Home roles changing, too 

Traditional roles at home are also changing as fathers and mothers balance work and child-rearing more equally than in the past, according to the Pew Research Center report “Modern Parenthood.”

Pew analysis compared how men and women divide time between paid work, housework and child care from 1965 to 2011. Data show a gap still exists, but men have started to take on more duties at home, and women are spending more time at paid work. 

In 1965, men were occupied with paid work 42 hours a week, while spending four hours on housework and 2.5 on childcare. In 2011, fathers were spending 10 hours on housework and seven on childcare, while paid work accounted for an average of 37 hours during their week.

Dylan Beam sees the new zeitgeist coming. “Society is affecting my generation. We’re definitely going to lead much differently than my father’s generation,” he says.

And, though different, those differences can still work well together. He adds: “Dad is a little less flexible than I am, but it’s not any less productive than the way I lead. It’s just different.”

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