Geeks and Geezers

As Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas admit, comparing the leadership styles of those who grew to maturity during World War II with those now known as Generation X or Generation Y would seem to be an exercise in futility. Nevertheless, through a series of interviews with men and women who are recognized leaders of both large and small companies, the authors of Geeks and Geezers: How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders demonstrate that the similarities between these apparently disparate groups offer significant insight into the qualities of leadership that transcend generational differences.

The authors’ breakthrough discovery is that successful leaders among both geeks and geezers possess the quality of “neoteny,” a certain youthful inquisitiveness and joie de vivre that makes each of them want to learn constantly and explore new possibilities both in their business and personal lives. Leaders from both generations exhibited exceptional “adaptive capacity,” the ability to adjust their course when unforeseen difficulties arose. The ability to be adaptive was frequently put to the test early in these leaders’ careers, when each went through some kind of defining experience in their careers that tested their ability to overcome obstacles. The authors call this experience the “crucible” in which values are tested and people learn not merely to persevere but also to pursue their goals in spite of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Free from the jargon that makes many leadership studies ponderous reading, Geeks and Geezers is written in an animated style peppered with literary allusions and homespun wisdom that allows the authors to present a convincing case to even the most skeptical reader. The insights provided by Bennis and Thomas are worth serious reflection by all those wishing to become more successful in their jobs while leading fulfilling lives outside the workplace.