The Question Matters


Obama’s Leadership Style: Thoroughly Gen X

Posted in Change,Generation X,Leadership by treyfinley1008 on January 30, 2010

I try to stay away from political topics on my blog.  Political conversations are often polarizing, rarely resulting in anything productive or positive.  Seeking to understand always seems to take a back seat to seeking to be understood.   Today’s politics are offensive to me.  I honestly believe that our politicians (especially those who live and work in D.C.) have their own best interests at heart.  History teaches us that even in the most stable nation-states, the governors will always rule the governed.  Power corrupts; we should not be surprised when our politicians behave as if they’ve been corrupted.

That said, I have followed President Obama with interest.  He represents the first in what will likely be several Presidents who are members of Generation X.   In his campaign, he behaved differently.  He communicated differently.  He didn’t use win-lose language, but rather win-win language.  He used grassroots efforts to build his campaign rather than expounding from on high.  He seemed a different kind of candidate.

Of course, he was exactly the kind of candidate some people despised.  For some it was his demeanor.  For others it was his allegiance to a political party they don’t respect.  Sadly, for some it was his name and his skin color.  Whatever your perspective, President Obama has been polarizing.

I’ve always appreciated what appears to be his very open mind.  He has an agenda, of course, but he’s been accused of too much compromising from his own party to think that he’s simply cowing to what a Democrat is supposed to do and think.  It’s this very tendency that may be so bewildering to people both inside and outside the Beltway.  I’ve copied a post from the Harvard Business Review.  This author seems to think that his Generation X culture may be working against his success:

Perhaps the biggest difference between Boomers and X’ers, from my research, is the diminished emphasis X’ers place on winning for winning’s sake, on being right. Boomers, reared in a zero sum world of overpopulated classrooms and too-few jobs, have by necessity often taken a highly polarized line. Obama, in contrast, appears to shape his communications to eliminate the language of combat. He often reminds us that he has no personal pride of authorship.

I wonder, however, whether the drive to communicate the “rightness” of your position might not be an essential element of political leadership.

Hmmm…maybe that’s why I’m so appalled by today’s politics.

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5 Responses to 'Obama’s Leadership Style: Thoroughly Gen X'

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  1. […] We don’t this, we don’t that, we’re too this and not enough that.  Our first President has been metaphorically left for dead.  Our opportunities for career promotion are blocked.  […]


  2. […] […]


  3. @S Wiltern…

    Thanks for taking time to add a thoughtful response to the blog.

    Clearly you’re well-versed in generational research. There are many opinions (often quite sound ones) on when and where to make generational breaks. There are some members of Generation X who take offense at the attempt of some observers to take away precious members of an already much smaller demographic. 🙂

    Strauss and Howe’s breakdown of generations is still a valid one, I think, and it is the paradigm by which I describe Generation X. Perhaps we can agree that any generational breakdown demonstrates as least as much about the researcher as it does about the actual generation.

    However we categorize President Obama generationally (be it through demographic or experience), what similarities and differences do you see in his leadership style compared to the existing leadership culture in the center of American politics?

  4. S. Wiltern said,

    Only very few actual experts anywhere have said that Obama is part of Generation X or the Baby Boom Generaton. By contrast, a long list of prominent experts have said that Obama is part of Generation Jones. Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention; in fact, the Associated Press’ annual Trend Report chose the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009. Many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) specifically refer to Obama as part of Generation Jones. Here is a 5 minute YouTube video with over 20 influential pundits talking about Obama as a GenJoneser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ta_Du5K0jk

    It is important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. Many experts now believe it breaks down more or less this way:

    DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964
    Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953
    Generation Jones: 1954-1965
    Generation X: 1966-1978

    Here is an op-ed in USA TODAY about Obama as the first GenJones President:
    http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20090127/colu

    Here’s a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones, with many media references to Obama as a GenJoneser:
    http://generationjones.com/2009latest.html

  5. 2mannasisters said,

    I guess no one is bold enough to comment here. I’ll just comment on that fact. 🙂


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