President Bush, often dismissed as a frat boy who lucked into everything he achieved, became a candidate for a “strange new respect” award after his handling of the crisis following last year’s terrorist attacks. That’s both because he was often underestimated by his foes and he did what many leaders do, rise to the occasion.
Unlike his immediate predecessor, who was often the poster boy for the excesses and self-indulgence that characterize many members of the baby boom generation, Bush has shown a seriousness of purpose.
When journalists and scholars try to explain how people “grow” into leaders, they often resort to excessive psychobabble and do little to explain the influence of broader historical factors.
Geeks & Geezers (Harvard Business School Press, 221 pages, $26.95) tries to remedy that gap and analyzes management and leadership skills by looking at how the events of an era shape the personas and habits of leaders.
The book is billed as the first cross-generational study of leaders. The authors use their interviews with 43 leaders (25 geezers, mostly age 70 and over, and 18 geeks, mostly age 30 and under) to draw a range of conclusions.
“We see era as important, not because it defines individuals, but because it presents them with a shared history and culture and a specific arena in which to act,” write University of Southern California professor Warren G. Bennis and management consultant Robert J. Thomas.
The “geeks” profiled range from Dan Cunningham, who founded several businesses, including an on-line retailer of fresh chocolates, to Wendy Kopp, who founded “Teach For America,” which places young people in teaching positions in poor school districts.
The “geezers” ranged from former congressman and New York University president John Brademas to award-winning architect Frank Gehry.
Bennis and Thomas contend that despite the varied experiences of their subjects, one can draw some conclusions about each generation’s approach to leading.
Unfortunately, the authors don’t sufficiently explain how members of the same generation can have such disparate reactions to the same political and social events.
One could just as easily argue that a person’s socioeconomic, educational and regional background is as good a predictor of his leadership style and qualities as is the generation into which he was born.
For instance, although Presidents Bill Clinton and Lyndon Johnson were a generation apart, they shared personal peccadilloes and an amoral approach to governing. Their similarly modest childhoods in the South and single-minded pursuits of the presidency caused them to see the world similarly.
Because Bennis and Thomas don’t address the influence of social class and economics, their book is the poorer for it.
Instead, the authors use their interviews to draw generation-wide conclusions, some of which show an astounding flare for the obvious.
“Yesterday’s leaders were specialists who sought and trusted answers. Today’s tend to be generalists who know they need to ask the right questions,” they write.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?