Leader Access – Mentor and Protege Bridging

Edgar Allen Poe pondered weak and weary as his famous poem The Raven relates. Facing organizations across the globe is a need to discover the time for executives to knowledge being weak and weary. Yet, this sees counter-culture to Baby Boomer generation executives who put their hearts into work. Further complicating decisions are health statistics for older workers. The bar for becoming weak and weary is moving away from the sixties to the seventies. Who or what determines when an executive is ready to move on. When is it time for executives to take themselves out of the picture allowing the next generation its leadership role?

Consider another example: The election year of 1960 saw a youthful Irish Catholic ascend to the Presidency of the United States. Baby Boom Americans remember his "Ask not …" statement; Most high school and college students have heard the quote repeated in Public Speaking classes. However, an important part of the Kennedy Inaugural Address goes unheeded or unheeded among business executives. Kennedy told us the torch has past to a new generation. The label Kennedy fought against was not only religious but also age.

Generational Labeling

The sociology of labeling generations is arbitrary. Most agree the Baby Boom Generation began about 1946. Boomers are children of the Silent Generation or, as Tom Brokaw puts it, The Greatest Generation. As Boomers reach retirement age, youngest members of the Silent Generation still hold positions of leadership and power across the globe. Two generations, still holding onto leadership, and seem unable or unwilling to pass the torch. They are either weak nor weary, many have disposable wealth, and many are still physically and mentally strong. Why do they not step away to enjoy the fruits of their labor to let the next generation take command? One answer may be the portal of the next generation by media sources nationally and globally. The labeling is very reminiscent of the Kennedy era.

Generation X – Generation Next

Laura Slattery presents a synopsis of media labeling of the generation born to Baby Boomers. In short, the label put on the generation born between 1961 and 1981 was slackers, pigeonholed by the image of disaffected. Slattery shares the words of Douglas Brinkley who called the generation "numb and dumb … white upper-middle class and college educated." This age group is comfortable living at home with their parents, the media reported. Perhaps this capricious depiction stuck in the minds of Boomers and the Silent Generation.

Russell Hawkins addressing leadership in education, specifically succession of principals reports statistics from the US, Canada, and his New South Wales home.

O 40 percent of US principals are about to retire.

O In Canada, depending on Province, 30 to 57 percent of schools leaders can retire in three to five years.

O In NSW, 63 percent of school principals are over 50 years old.

Education is one industry facing a new generation of leaders. Additional research may possibly carry those numbers across industries globally. Time is neigh for Boomer leaders to take on mentoring roles, coaching and training a new batch of leaders.


The purpose of this article is not defending Boomers and Silents in their retention of leadership, rather the purpose is proposing their mentoring and coaching has prepared Generation X to assume the mantel of leadership – building a bridge. Russell Hawkins offers a view of principal access in New South Wales; However, examination of his position provides insight to access in most organizations. In a litany points, Hawkins identifies attributes that make access to leadership effective. His main points include

O A coherent research base or framework.

O Links between theory and practice.

O Content applied in authentic settings addressing common issues.

O Practical skills developed in context.

O Challenging relevant simulations to improve decision-making.

O Supportive groups providing a social structure for skills acquisition.

O Mentoring to guide new leaders.

O Co-ordination of leaderships support.

O Sequential development across the different stages of leadership.

For further discussion of leadership success or access, the focus is on mentoring to guide new leaders for the inevitable role they will play in future leadership. Dan O'Hair et al express the value of mentoring with similar points as Hawkins and expand those points explaining the mentor gives a protégé public recognition, is important on the protégé's behalf, and as the relationship builds the mentor becomes a friend and role model.

Mentoring is an act taken consciously. A senior leader who brings a protégé under tutelage is doing so with a specific goal – to prepare a protégé to lead. In the ideal relationship, both members enter the relationship voluntarily. They initiate the relationship based on the mentor's interest in the protégé and the protégé's loyalty to the mentor. As the initiation phase continues, they cultivate their relationship and bond interpersonally. At times, the relationship drifts apart. Either the mentor or protégé takes on new tasks or job requirements separating them over both time and space. In this separation stage, the protégé is more independent, able to show how well the lessons learned his / her leadership skills.

Redefining the relationship because of promotion is a great complement for a mentor. Over time, the mentor and protégé may become peers. More than sharing knowledge and expertise, they now provide one another mutual aid and support. Reaching this stage seldom occurs if the teacher courses well and protégé learners well. The learning can result in separation through reassignments, promotions, or organizational job change.

Mentoring – Bridging to the Next Generation

According to the research by the Institute for the Future for Intuit, large businesses do not employ masses of people as they once did. Currently, fewer than 40 percent of US workers earn their living in organizations with employment greater than 1000. Before, the future of business depends on new leadership emerging before pre-retirement age workers actually step down.

There is support for this coming from William Rothwell who sees older workers as mentors and coaches for the next generation of leaders. Keeping existing talent in place aids business in overcoming chaos and confusion that would certainly make up for hiring untested workers. Rothwell does not end his discussion with mentoring and coaching. He continues with a challenge to supervisors and managers to identify potential successors. A retail regional vice-president used the phrase, "Hire your replacement." The value of this statement applies to continuity of operations by developing talent from within.

Mentoring allows organizations to develop the skill sets necessary to continue the mission. Further, mentoring aids in projecting a vision of the future by sharing with a protégé history, and long-term business objectives. Conversely, searching for leader successors from outside the organization may result in what Rakesh Khurana calls a hope that an outsider is a corporate savior. In fact, successors from outside may have a narrow set of attributes considered desirable versus skill sets needed to actually lead an organization forward.


Recall Poe and The Raven, weak and weary may no longer suit healthy leaders who want to continue in leadership. Recall also, the example of Kennedy taking the passed torch. The previous generation did not want to relinquish its hold on leadership; They feared the next generation was ill prepared to lead. Hindsight indicates new leaders made mistakes and learned from experience. Foresight can predict the next generation of leaders will make mistakes and learn from them as well. Soon, Boomers will pass the threshold of retirement. There are leaders ready to grasp the torch.

Laura Slattery (No Date). Generation X to Generation Next. Egoist.

Russell Hawkins (2004). GENeration neXt: Generational Change in the Principalship. NSW Department of Education and Training.

Dan O'hair, Gustav W. Friedrich, and Lynda Dixon Shaver (1998). Strategic Communication in Business and the Professions (3rd Ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company

Intuit (2007, January). The Intuit Future of Small Business Report: First Installment: Demographic Trends and Small Business. Institute for the Future for Intuit.

William J. Rothwell (2005). Effective Succession Planning: Ensuring Leadership Continuity and Building Talent From Within (3rd Ed.). New York: AMACOM.

Rakesh Khurana (2002). Searching for a Corporate Savior: The Irrational Quest for Charismatic CEOs. Princeton: Princeton University Press.