This paper is the Masters Thesis (Military Studies) of LtCol Bridget Hamacher, USAF, graduate of the prestigious Marine Corps Command and Staff College. Her background includes leading battalion size commands (minimum 1,000 plus personnel) composed of multi-generational staff. Her degree led to promotion to full Colonel and assigned as Commanding Officer of USAF 37th Training Group, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, TX leading 26,000 military and civilians. The intended audience of this publication is for a mixture of academia and military leadership. The research question addressed is: Does understanding and recognizing the differences between generations a leaders responsibility to better motivate subordinates for mission success?
The purpose is to show why an effective leader must understand the generational differences within the rigid military rank structure so as to enhance mission success.
The author calls these ‘generational personalities’. The old-fashioned military leader is trained to accomplish a mission but without the interactive leader-subordinate process required of ‘generational leadership’. Existing military officer leadership training does NOT consider it central to good leadership.
It significantly is the first paper to discuss all four generations within the American military. Previously, research on generational differences and its impact on American military leadership has been negligible.
The four generations discussed are Veterans (1922-1943), Baby Boomer’s (1943-1960), Generation Xers (1960-1980), and Millennials (1980-2000). Veterans can be described as loyal, patriotic and hardworking. They are influenced by the Great Depression, WW2, and the Korean War. The strict chain of command approach is the way to accomplish things. They are the retired officer, high-ranking civilian leadership.
Baby Boomers are described as optimistic workaholics. They are influenced by the Vietnam War and television’s advent. They are the Generals and senior non-commissioned officers. Generation X’rs are described as self-reliant, computer-literate, the ‘latch-key kids.’ Millenials are described as multitaskers and multicultural. They are influenced by the 1999 shooting massacre at Colorado’s Columbine High School.
This is a social science publication with a qualitative design method comprising observational and historical research. The author did gather enough information/data from the existing literarture as well as successfully extrapolate general population generational descriptors to the military environment. Tables and graphs used were properly credited to previous civilian and/or military journal publications. These were appropriate to justify her findings and conclusions as they could be applied to generational differences within the military and the constraints imposed by its hierarchical command and control structure. This writer is convinced the author did enough research review and information compilation for her paper.
Each generation grew up in a different time with its own unique social conditions and events affecting the way each generation approaches life. Different generations communicate, work, think differently, and value different things. If commanders can use this information to motivate all members of their unit, then a win-win situation ensues. This is generational leadership: capitalizing on generational strengths and skills for mission effectiveness.
This work was cited by two other authors: Fitzsimmons, D. M. (2012). Generational Leadership in the United States Marine Corps, and Fazande, S. M. (2017). Preventing The Poaching Of Personnel: Bolstering The Retention Of The Air Force’s Most Valued Assets. Both agree for the need to understand the perspective of each generation so as to lead effectively.
In conclusion, a military leader’s clear understanding of generational differences will assist in the proper motivation of subordinates, especially critical in combat.
The author did not specifically refer to or recommend specific different leadership styles to apply to the different generations. This was accomplished by Fazande, S. M. (2017) where he gave multiple, specific leadership style scenarios for each generation.
Confusingly, although Hamacher described Millenials as the longest serving on combat duty, she only mentioned the Columbine massacre as their influencing event. She made no mention of the Gulf War, Bosnia/Kosovo Wars, Grenada/Haiti/Panama invasions. The same with the Gen X’rs, no mention made of the influence of the Cuban Missile Crisis or Cold War.
This writer does agree with Hamacher’s conclusion. This paper is a forerunner of further invaluable research on generational leadership in our U.S. military. Hamacher has exposed the importance of military leadership’s understanding of accepted differences across generational divides and a shift toward different leadership styles appropriate to each.