How many generations are actively engaged in the leadership of your efforts? In many groups, whether they are companies, families, communities, government agencies, schools, nonprofits, cities or whole nations, leadership is mostly in 1-2 generations. In some groups, it is only young leaders. In some groups, they are only elders. Sometimes there are 2 generations, rarely there are 3, and very seldom there are 4. What difference does this make? Two immediate consequences of the number of generations in leadership come up: leadership experience and leadership relevance.
Leadership Experience. Leadership requires understanding and engaging others in the group’s deeper purpose, in engaging people outside of the group (external stakeholders) in interactions with the group, in understanding the complex dynamics of human interactions to achieve the group’s goals efficiently and effectively, innovating along the way, and in accessing the resources required today and tomorrow to support the work of the group. This is a lot. And, it requires different kinds of experience. Understanding how to access current structures of resources is in the experience of current power holders. Innovation is in the experience of current and emerging leaders. The complex dynamics of human interactions within and outside the group are in the experience of the elders. Engaging the deeper purpose and outer groups is in the experience of current and emerging leaders, each with their counterparts. The ability to align purpose, understanding of the external and internal environments, accessing the required resources, in complex interactions requires all three types of experience: that of the emerging leaders; the current power holders; and the elders.
Leadership Relevance. Leadership is relevant when it can provide guidance in today’s context towards the group’s goals today, while strengthening the group’s resilience to be able to achieve tomorrow’s goals. Today and tomorrow. Achievement of outcomes and strengthening of inner structures. Flexibility, stability, and resilience. This is what we look to our leaders to provide.
What works today and how to access power structures today is the domain of the current power holders. What will work tomorrow and how to be resilient in emerging structures is the domain of the emerging leaders. It is the domain of what is coming, how people engage, interact, and structures of access to resources in the emerging future. The complexity of the underlying dynamics in the current and the future is the domain of the elders–how to see the patterns, and how to test ideas of what to do with them.
If resilience is the ability to adjust to changes in the context, one of the critical factors that constantly changes in the context is how to connect with, engage, and interact with the population, which itself contains multiple generations. Most organizations have one generation leading. some two, how do three or four strengthen a group’s current work and future resilience?
Where This Applies. In companies and communities, succession planning is a big deal, and often a big reason for long-term failure. The current leaders are not able to understand (1) what specific competencies made their organization successful, so (2) they do not know what competencies to look for and develop in the next generation of leadership. Current leaders also do not know how to invite emerging leaders to take on responsibilities, in ways that make sense to the new leaders in their context. The new leaders see the world different and are preparing their community for an emerging reality. This is often hard for the current power holders and elders to see.
A different way of looking at this is to have multi-generational leadership with emerging leaders bringing in resilience for new realities, the current power holders breaking down barriers and providing access to resources, and elders providing the wisdom of seeing many cycles. This is the possibility of intergenerational improv. Mutual mentorship of the emerging, the power structures, and patterns of cycles. A framework for abundance-based succession planning.