Despite decades of emancipation and supposed equality for women, we still live in a world dominated by the patriarchal worldview of preceding centuries. One of the consequences of this situation is that our leadership models and structures in organisations are still predominantly patriarchal. This pattern may be more clearly understood if we look at it in light of who most people viewed as their first leader, their father.
Most Boomers and Silents grew up in homes where Dad was the boss and presided over the family affairs as the benevolent patriarch. As these generations grew out of babyhood into childhood, through adolescence, and eventually into adulthood their primary reference point for leadership definition was how Dad would’ve acted in the same situation. As they became leaders in the workplace, and community, they instituted this same frame of reference in the structures and organisations they built. The same, however, cannot be said for the generation that followed them.
The next generation [Generation X] grew up in a different world. The ‘broken home’ was endemic, and with it, the lack of father figures. One of the unexpected consequences of this scenario is the loss of that initial leadership role model. We have a generation, the vast majority of whom, have missed out on a style of leadership interaction, that those before them took for granted.
There are two immediate consequences relevant to most people who will be reading this article.
1. The modern workplace is the melting pot of these three generations. We have two generations who are currently exercising their leadership roles using paradigms that they understand and grew up with. However the third generation, the people they are leading, don’t share that paradigm at the most basic of levels.
2. As children interacting with their fathers the boomers and Silents didn’t only learn from their example of leadership. The more critical learning many people gained was understanding the dynamics of good ‘followership’. In the world we live in, we have limited scope for exercising leadership, but everyone is expected to follow someone else almost constantly.
The fatherless generation don’t understand the paternal leadership paradigm, and frankly they don’t care for it. For many of this generation Mom was both mother and father, but the reality is, that despite her best efforts Mom can never be Dad. So we have two groupings within the fatherless generation; one group who have little understanding of paternal leadership and the corresponding followership dynamics, and a second group who have a warped understanding of these dynamics. The skills that this group developed to cope in this environment made them a self-reliant and self-led group. Consequently, they don’t need traditional leaders and leadership structures to get things done � much to the chagrin of those designated to lead them.
The current patriarchal / paternal leadership model in organisations is irrelevant to the fatherless generation because they simply cannot relate to the expectations and assumptions associated with it’s structures. It is consequently understandable when those presently in leadership positions beat their chests in frustration when trying to lead this group. The leaders can’t lead effectively, because the followers don’t know how to follow‌ the way the leaders expect them to.
There is, furthermore, an additional complicating factor. Many of the members of the fatherless generation are now becoming parents themselves. In the workplace this group don’t know how to follow, and at home they are battling with the concepts and requirements of leadership.
In the previous generation’s household Dad was #1 and Mom was #2, and nobody questioned it. If there was a decision to be made, what Dad said went. As the fatherless generation has married, or entered into long-term relationships, they have built spousal structures that are more egalitarian in their decision-making and authority processes. Now, as they are becoming parents they have several issues they are grappling with:
“ They have no paternal leadership reference. Men battle to understand what it means to be a father. Women battle to understand how they are to relate to their husbands, and partners, as the fathers of their children.
“ With no reference point they turn to their peers for guidance. The problem is that their peers are in exactly the same boat. The amazing thing is that rather than becoming a case of the ‘blind leading the blind’ it is actually developing into a ‘two heads are better than one’ scenario. These peer groups are co-developing a new leadership model by trial and error, and in so doing are creating new parenting leadership paradigms.
“ Building on the principles of equality they had in place in their relationships before parenthood, they are developing a leadership style where both Mom and Dad are #1.
The implications for the workplace of this second trend are significant. Not only do this group of individuals not understand the present leadership paradigm, they are going through a significant struggle within themselves to be the leaders they want to be in the place where it matters most, at home. If they seem a distracted and conflicted group of people, that is because they probably are.
For those in leadership who are looking for answers on how to work with this fatherless generation I wish I could provide the answers that you are looking for, but I can’t. As the father of a 13month old little boy, I am one of those fatherless people trying to build something new. The only advice I can dispense is this.
“ Realise that the way you think about fatherhood, leadership and parenting isn’t shared by those younger than you. The rules are changing and if you want to have effective followers, it is probably a good idea to relook at the assumptions you bring to your role and execution of leadership.
“ In your mentoring and coaching, understand that this group of people don’t understand the world you grew up in, or even the world you live in today. As a fathered generation we can learn from you, but in order to do that effectively it is critical that you assume less, engage honestly, and listen more.
Raymond De Villiers is a consulting futurist, with professional studies in subjects ranging from Mechanical Engineering to Theology. He is currently completing a Masters in Philosophy in Futures Studies at the Institute of Futures Research at the Stellenbosch University Business School. He is recognised as a creative and lateral thinker, able to combine wide-ranging resources to craft unique solutions. He has worked with many of South Africa’s large corporates, assisting them to develop their people strategies and futures planning.

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