I was recently talking with a friend at a non-profit and he was telling me about the challenges faced by the organization. Most of the company is getting on in years, mostly Boomers (born 1943-1960) who have been with the organization for a very long time. Because it is an non-profit, they are driven by a desire to fulfill the “mission”. As many of these Boomers are nearing retirement, they are realizing that they would like to “leave a legacy” behind them. The only problem is that each of them has a different vision of what that legacy should be.
This is a uniquely Boomer reality: the desire to leave a legacy which only arise as they are getting close to departing from their work-life. The challenge with this desire is two-fold:
- If everyone wants to leave their own legacy at an organization, the organization is likely to have troubles being true to a singular mission
- You can’t build a legacy in just a few years
Many Boomers have spent their lives rebelling against a system that they saw as corrupt and shallow. They accomplished this goal, tearing down the American Dream society built by the GI Generation (born 1901-1924), and I would argue it needed tearing down. But because their focus was inward and individual, they were not able to rebuild an new society based on their vision(s), at least not in their midlife (from 42-63). But now as they enter Elderhood (64-84) they are realizing that building something lasting might be possible with the enlisted help of their heroic children (Millennials, born 1982-200?).
All that is reasonable enough, but the problem arises when each individual Boomer wants to build their ideal and leave their mark on an organization or society in general. There just is not enough room for all those ideals. The other problem is that to build a true legacy you must work your entire life towards that goal. You must be true to a singular vision from very early in life. It is not something you can adopt at 63 and expect to bring it to fruition before your are too tired to continue. Many Boomers will leave a legacy, but it is likely that they started working on that legacy a long time ago.
But for many Boomers this is not a deterrent. Many Boomers see the opportunity to finally build something lasting instead of taking down something they despised. It is a worthy goal, but it must be done with a recognition that it will be another generation will be deciding which ideal to pursue and the time for talk and squabbling is almost over. This pushing and pulling for the reins will become more common in the next few years while we decide what ideal to build upon.
This attitude reminds me of the leadership of several failed startups I have worked at. I have often said that the leaders of these companies became so enamored of their part in the story of the company that they stopped caring where the story was going. They just wanted to be sure that they were a part of the story, even if that meant it ended badly. Let’s hope Boomers don’t make the same mistake.