Old School vs. New School, Young Leaders vs. the Old Guard – Times They Are A-Changin’

Maybe it is the turn of the year, when many think about ways of the past they would like to leave behind, and when the optimism present at the beginning of what-is-next causes you to think of the unlimited upside of the potential for positive change.

Maybe it is the generational change underway on a local, regional, and national scale, where the boomers-and-above are starting to step aside (willingly or begrudgingly) to allow the young leaders of our world to have a voice in how things in the future are going to run.

Maybe it is the democratization of information and influence shifting from the broadcasters of news, opinion, and impact to the masses through online and social media, blogs, and mobile.

While it is true that these changes are happening every year, all year long, forever - things are likely shifting at a faster rate - right here, right now - than they have in quite some time. And like they say, you should pay attention when shift happens :)

Whether you’re talking about the world of politics, industry, communication, or the non-profit sector , the old guard is getting entwined with the young leaders, and the influence of new-school thinking is often altering what is done in old-school organizations. While "old" and "new" tend to describe age in a traditional sense, leading in a modern sense is far more dependent on style of thinking, not longevity of life.

I have watched many older leaders jump on changes in management style, communication techniques, and ways of thinking, while watching some more youthful folks hold onto older mentalities of what is involved in their job, or the significance of the establishment they are operating within. The winners and the losers are competing more against the notion of change than they are against whatever the specific change is.

Today's business leader or manager realizes the only thing they should depend on is that change is constant.

It is not that any one specific old-school principal might be dated or ineffective. It is that any practice, at every organization, can and should be evaluated by what makes sense today. Trends may have changed every few years in the past, and now they may be shifting every few months. Sometimes, the shift might be seismic rather than gradual. It absolutely does not mean that new is better and old is obsolete. It just means that something other than what you are currently doing could be better today, and will most certainly be in the future. Change kicks the ass of the newcomers just as often as it does for the old-timers if the newbies get cocky.

The funny thing is that those who are most in need of a reboot or an upgrade to their operating system are the ones running a 4-year-old version of Internet Explorer, talking on a Blackberry, and thinking that a business card, their electronic brochure on a website, a newspaper subscription, and a chamber membership is all that they need to stay relevant. Their challenge is not that they are unwilling to learn, it is that they often are asking their circle of friends about the need to change, and being reassured by their equally set-in-their-way buddies that all is well, change sucks, or that change is a pain in the ass that will pass.

Disruption is not something new. It is just happening at a faster rate, through a more distributed power structure that itself is likely to change as soon as any of us gets used to it, whether we are leading the charge or fighting it.

Global power structures can change quickly via Twitter or a YouTube video. News stories can go viral before any media company has published a piece. Business relationships can shift during a women's networking group at a coffee shop as quickly as they ever could in a board room full of middle-aged business guys. People are creating their own networks, both digital and physical.

Political parties are fighting to stay relevant on a local and regional scale. How we worship, raise funds, and support movements often have more to do with starting a KickStarter campaign, Change.org petition, and the creating a unique audio-visual message to engage us than they do through the influence of Punch 10, who has the biggest building, or what the establishment tells us to do.

So should you be nervous? If you are reading this, probably just a little bit. But you wouldn't have gotten to this point if you were one of those that were so set in your ways to think an article about change is a waste of your time. The fact that you are reading this on the Life sites already means you have embraced something new, though at six years old we are becoming the establishment more than the pioneers, and we have to constantly be taking a fresh look at ourselves, lest we believe our own BS.

Should you be excited? Absolutely. New thinking is not expensive, particularly time consuming, or very painful. Uncomfortable maybe, but the beauty is that an old company can become new easier than a new company can become old. An established pattern can improve easier than a new initiative can become established.

So what is old is new, and what is new hopes to be old but new again. And if any of that makes sense, give it a month.

Times, they are a-changin'.