How Will Our Next-Gen Leaders Shape Madison?

How Will Our Next-Gen Leaders Shape Madison?

Back in January, I asked, We’ve lost several community and business leaders to retirement already. And with 10,000 Boomers turning sixty-five every day in the United States, save room in your Outlook calendar for more retirement parties in the coming years.

Will Gen Xers, who are turning thirty-three to forty-eight years old this year, and the Millennials who are lining up right behind them, have a different leadership style than their Baby Boomer mentors and predecessors (born 1946 to 1964)?


Here’s why: Boomers were born, grew up and came into leadership during an eye-bulging economic expansion. Xers and Millennials are stepping up during a downswing.

Baby Boomer business author Jim Collins explains it this way: “How many times in history does a people come of age in the seemingly safe cocoon of a dominant global superpower during an era of rarely stalled rising prosperity? [The] U.S. in the second half of the twentieth century [is a] rarified slice of human history. We are now entering an extended period of uncertainty and disruption that might well characterize the rest of our lives.”

Although Madison’s next-gen leaders are inheriting an economic crap sandwich, they will have more (and cheaper) technology and a whole mess of talent to help. For these reasons, I predict that Madison’s next-gen leaders will crush it. Here’s what to look for: 

The United Nations of Talent: Baby Boomers marched and worked for women’s rights and civil rights. Xers and Millennials are the beneficiaries. They studied shoulder to shoulder in multi-ethnic schools and colleges. They saw their moms shimmy up career ladders. They had female professors and bosses. When Ellen said, “I’m gay,” they didn’t blink. They have seen and felt America become more diverse for years. For them, diversity is not an exception; it’s the expectation. And the payoff will be huge: Madison can solve a lot of issues when a diverse group of new leaders expect our city to work well for everyone.

Better Data, Smarter Technology: Gen Xers and Millennials are stepping into leadership during the era of Big Data and responsive technology. And they’re leveraging the hell out of it. Nate Silver predicted the outcome of our last presidential election using voter analytics. Next-gen utility companies are putting energy meters in plain sight in people’s homes, because customers who can see their real-time energy consume eleven percent less. In Madison, our next-gen leaders are finding the places where data and technology can make our city run better and more sustainably on leaner margins and with greater predictability. Who doesn’t want that?

Iterate, Iterate: In Silicon Valley, a new ethic has emerged—the Lean Start-up. The concept: Don’t spend years developing a perfect product. Get something into the marketplace quickly, gather feedback and iterate. Madison will see more of this happening across the public and nonprofit sectors. They’ll be called pilot projects or experiments, but the effect will be the same: little pockets of awesome that will be improved and expanded over time.

Flexwork = The New Norm: What does “being at work” mean to you? If you’re a Boomer, it probably means being at your office. For Gen Xers and Millennials, it’s a state of mind. As the next gen takes over Madison’s C-Suites and boardrooms, you’ll see more Skype meetings and teleconferences. Managers will be less strict about office hours and more concerned with measuring your results. (See “Better Data, Smarter Technology” above.)

End of the Culture Wars: The culture wars that defined Madison in the 1960s have outlived their usefulness. Take education. The Left wants you to think that only public-school-hating Righties want charter schools. But who wants charter schools more than anyone in Madison? African American parents. In Madison, I predict new coalitions will emerge among former rivals. And what will happen then?

Something transformative.


Rebecca Ryan is the author of ReGeneration. She’s grateful to Boomers who marched, sat in and fought for more rights for more people. And she’s cheering wildly for next-gen leaders to make good on those efforts and build an even brighter future for our kids and grandkids. Contact Rebecca Ryan at

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