Baby Boomer “leaders” really only care about loyalty

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Just want to say quickly upfront that I am not generally a fan of generalizing about generations, but yes, I am about to do it. I am sorry.

I grew up pretty liberal, and now I think I am “centrist,” whatever that means. I try to look at both sides of a given issue, even if I think one side is absolutely crazy — and yes, right now, that crazy side is more often than not the “right” side of the spectrum.

That said, for the last four years or so in America, we’ve had so much screaming about Trump at every turn. A lot of the Trump-screaming is confusing to me specifically because I grew up in New York City in the 1980s, and I saw New York Post headlines about him constantly. He is basically running the Presidency as an older version of his 1983 self. That’s really it.

And I think above all, as you yell about his many issues, you need to understand what drives him — which is the same thing that drives a lot of Boomers in professional contexts.

That would be loyalty.

Trump and loyalty

Let me lay out a couple of quotes and concepts for you:

  • Trump once said: “I value loyalty above everything else — more than brains, more than drive and more than energy.”
  • As noted here in Politico: Consider James Comey’s extraordinary dismissal; the “Dear Leader” Cabinet meetings convened for aides to bestow slavish praise; public humiliations of his attorney general and secretary of state; the banishment and subsequent contrition of top adviser Steve Bannon; speculation that Robert Mueller won’t last long as special counsel and the parade of lockstep minions whose forced exits from the campaign or the administration have not squelched their public displays of devotion.
  • Same article as above: According to people who know him well, Trump’s definition of loyalty is blunt. “Support Donald Trump in anything he says and does,” Roger Stone, the president’s longest-running political adviser, told me. “No matter what,” former Trump Organization executive Barbara Res said. “Or else,” added Louise Sunshine, a friend of Trump for nearly 50 years. “I think he defines it as allegiance,” biographer Tim O’Brien told me. “And it’s not allegiance to the flag or allegiance to the country — it’s allegiance to Trump.”
  • According to Axios, Johnny McEntee, head of the president’s personnel office, has been enlisted to oversee a purge of “bad people” — that is, officials rumored to be anti-Trump — from the administration. The former Trump body man and aide “called in White House liaisons from cabinet agencies for an introductory meeting Thursday,” the outlet reported, and ordered them to name political appointees who might not be sufficiently loyal. (From here.)
  • New York Times: “But he does so wearing a political coat of armor built on total loyalty from G.O.P. activists and their representatives in Congress. If he does not enjoy the broad admiration Republicans afforded Ronald Reagan, he is more feared by his party’s lawmakers than any occupant of the Oval Office since at least Lyndon Johnson.”

OK, I think that’s enough context.

Is Trump the ultimate Boomer?

In some ways, sure. If the Boomers are “The Me Generation,” well, Trump got his nut, he married models, he had a №1 TV show and №1 books, his name is on buildings, and he won the Presidency over an established political brand. He did him. I am not saying everything he has done is even remotely good, but if one goal of the Boomer generation is superficial success, he has mostly achieved that. (Yes, I am putting aside the bankruptcies right now.)

If Trump is the ultimate Boomer, and Trump drives everything through loyalty, can that be extrapolated?

What about brand loyalty, for example?

Most have argued that Boomers are very brand loyal. My parents are more silents (1940/1943) but they buy the same exact toilet paper every week or so since about 1974. Small sample size, but eh.

Nielsen reporting found a mixed bag on Boomer loyalty, but did broadly agree that Boomer loyalty helped some brands gain incredible market share and revenue in the past 40–50 years.

Now go back to one Trump quote above

That would be this quote:

“I think he defines it as allegiance,” biographer Tim O’Brien told me. “And it’s not allegiance to the flag or allegiance to the country — it’s allegiance to Trump.”

Preach. When I was coming up with this concept, I texted a couple of friends. I actually recorded a podcast episode with one friend of mine on Thursday and this also came up. Basically, everyone was telling me “I look at Trump and I think … that is every Boomer manager I have ever had.”

Is that a generalization? Absolutely.

What does it mean, though? It means basically: a Boomer manager will often talk in terms of allegiance to the brand, to the mission, to the purpose, to the broader company, whatever … but in reality you know the allegiance has to be to them. If you don’t carry water for said boss, you will get #piped. (That means fired.) This is classic double talk, and I’ve found it to be very common among Boomer “leadership.”

What’s the bigger picture around loyalty at work these days?

Not rosy.

From here:

“I got laid off and when I did, about 30 of my co-workers said to me, ‘Nicolas, couldn’t you see that your department was on the chopping block for months?’ I couldn’t see it. I had blinders on. I believed everything my boss said. When he told me I was laid off, I couldn’t take in it at first. I thought he was kidding. I thought it was literally impossible that they would let me go, but they did.”

From here:

2008 recession: This hit a lot of Boomers in the wallet, and probably kept them working longer than they wanted to. (As in, they’re still working.) The ones running companies thus became even more cost-averse. Your biggest cost is people. Time to cut them (look into automation) or stiff them (economic stagnation).

Most people that I have ever encountered who stay at one job for a long time fall into these buckets:

  • They are close to the power core.
  • The benefits are good and they don’t want to leave.
  • They get lazy.

And even when those bullets are met, they can get fired in an instant — sometimes by a HR flak they’ve never even met.

Boomers built these work cultures. They have been shaped by multiple generations, of course, but the hammers were swung on them by the Boomers. It’s hard to look at these cultures and think abject loyalty in the form of near-servitude isn’t the only way to get through. Remember: most bosses, and definitely most Boomers, want heads-down foot soldiers.

Ideas? Don’t bring me ideas. Bring me answers and fully-baked product. Bring me something that will make me look better up the chain. Do not cross me.

These are realities I’ve encountered many times. What about you?

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