I’m Losing Patience with the Old Boys

I’m losing patience and respect for the “Old Boys” among us.

While I’ll be the first to admit they bring extensive experience and often great wisdom, there is a disconcerting sameness in their sense of entitlement, and an often masked, yet unmistakable, arrogance.

Yes without a doubt there are exceptions.  If you are an Old Boy, you might even think you are different. But trust me, the odds are you aren’t.  In fact, you might even be one of the most most dangerous because you are smart enough to say and sometimes even act like a new age leader even though in your heart of hearts, you really do believe you’re the one with the right answers.

This Old Boy thinking was reinforced for me recently in two different interactions.

One Old Boy listened to me in a half-distracted manner, despite my having booked the phone appointment two weeks earlier. In fact, I think he may actually have forgotten it because I had to call his assistant when he missed calling me at the prearranged time.

Once we connected, I provided a brief explanation of the core work of my social enterprise in supporting a comprehensive approach to community transformation, and asked for his advice in connecting to others doing the same kind of work.

Not surprisingly, given his inattentive manner, he totally missed the “comprehensive” nature of the work.  Not appearing to have enough time or interest to ask any questions and not having a box for what we were doing, he simply categorized and came across as dismissive in describing the work simply as being training, suggested a few connections, and ended the call saying he had another appointment.

The second conversation was with an Old Boy who extensively promotes collaboration and collective impact in communities across the country. While he wasn’t as dismissive as the first Old Boy and reflected more interest, he struggled deeply when it came time to put boots on the ground and actually practice what he was preaching when it came to sharing his own power and control.

The old me might have sighed and internalized the blame as being about my own shortcomings. Yet apparently I’ve turned a corner. Now, I just find myself getting angry.  Sort of like the iconic speech from the main character in the movie, The Network. I too may have been pushed to the point where “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”.

What’s getting clearer for me as my frustration grows, is how much this really is about power and who holds it.

Many of the Old Boys (and yes to be fair there are some old girls too) have typically worked hard to attain the holy grail of senior jobs and positions of authority. In addition to the titles, they hold power and prestige. From their point of view, the system is working as it should and they’re fighting hard to hang on to it.

The problem they often don’t see is that the systems they’re heading up are broken.

They don’t seem to see, or perhaps are choosing to ignore, that our hierarchal, command and control systems were built for the industrial era, not for the current realism of a hyper-connected, fast changing world.  It should also be clear that dominance and control is becoming more and more difficult to sustain as complexity grows.

While the top-down chain of command that originated in the industrial era had its time and place, it simply isn’t a good fit for today’s knowledge economy and the evolving network economy and the accompanying rapid change, information technologies, and demanding public.

Today’s challenges are far too complicated for traditional, centralized, command and control leadership and a cowboy-culture that rewards strong personalities.

We need a much more open-source culture (and yes there are many Old Boys who can’t accurately define open-source) where leadership is distributed and allowed to emerge organically in a trusted and more transparent environment.

We need leaders who understand they must empower others by sharing control and power in order to generate ideas and solve today’s complex problems. 

This distributed leadership is an attitude rather than a management technique. It means that despite being an Old Boy, you don’t and won’t have all the answers and, in many cases, will even be wrong.

Old Boys must also embrace the idea that there are many others who are experts in their own right. With and without formal titles, they are a unique, underutilized, and important source of knowledge and wisdom that must be tapped.

Understand as well this isn’t simply a feminist issue, because the talents of those that need to be tapped are also the young men and women who make up GenX and GenY, our elders, those from different cultures, the outlying lateral thinkers, artists, and others.

In other words Old Boys, get used to the idea that if you want to make the right decisions, survive and thrive, you’re going have to the understand that the only way you will have any control and power is to give it up. 

Posted on 09-25-15


I couldn’t agree more. I was invited to one of your upcoming sessions, but cannot make it work, but looked you up anyway.  This is great post.  I sit on a board of a sports club and the board is a bunch of (mostly) wonderful older folks who do a ton of work for the community.  But they won’t give up any control whatsoever.  Every move must be voted on.  When we run a large event, I must submit all expenses in advance for review and approval.  Not only does it mean that things move so slowly it’s painful, but it implies a complete lack of trust.  As a result, the majority of younger folks coming up doing a lot of the work are quickly losing their enthusiasm.  We are losing volunteers.  People don’t want to run events because the red tape is so bad.  It’s so so sad.

•Posted by Tim Brewster  on  10/27/15  at  03:36 PM

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