Sebastian Kurz led his party to victory in the recent Austrian election. Already foreign minister, he is about to become the world’s youngest leader at 31. Emmanuel Macron became president of France at 39. At 37, he was appointed as the Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs. Guillaume Barazzone was elected to the Administrative Council for the City of Geneva in 2012 and has been a member of the Swiss National Council since 2013. Barazzone was Mayor of Geneva at 34.
The assumption has always been that wisdom comes with age and that our leaders should be experienced in the ways of the world. The election of younger leaders in Austria, France and Geneva raises two possibilities: Either people are rejecting failed policies of the past and hoping for significant change or the world has changed so rapidly that voters feel that only a new generation can understand what is going on.
The latter may be true in more than politics. The New York Times reports the following: “While businesses chase evanescent market trends and grapple with a fast-moving future, millennial mentors, as many companies call them, have emerged as a hot accessory for executives. Young workers, some just out of college, are being pulled into formal corporate programs to give advice to the top ranks of their company.”
Young college graduates giving advice to their experienced bosses? Apparently so. Major companies such as Mastercard have young professionals telling their elders how to get “hip with what kids are doing these days,” according to the article. Reverse wisdom? I thought young recruits should sit at the feet of veterans to hear stories about how things have always been done and to absorb the sagesse that comes with years of experience. Mentoring, like apprenticeships, has always been from the old to the young.
Now it’s one thing for business executives to listen to new recruits tell them what is going on in the market or to have a young computer whiz explain the latest technology (Are you also embarrassed to ask your children or even grandchildren about how to use a new program?), but to have a new generation making life and death decisions about how the world is run is quite different.
John Kennedy represented a new generation when he ran for president at age 43. What is striking about the leaders in their 30s is that a generation has been skipped. Barack Obama was 48 when he was first elected president. Kurz, Macron and Barazzone are in their 30s, roughly 40 years younger than Trump, Clinton and Sanders. In fact, Macron is about the same age as Donald Trump’s oldest son, Donald Jr. Ivanka Trump is 34. Her husband, Jared Kushner, senior White House advisor and special representative of the president for numerous issues, is 36.
I can accept that we are living in a period of accelerated time. Technological changes appear at breakneck speed. iPhone generation one was introduced in 2007. Ten years later we are at iPhone 8; that’s eight generations in ten years. I have trouble grasping the differences in each new phone; I have even more trouble accepting the use of generation in such a short time span. According to the dictionary, a generation is “the average period, generally considered to be about thirty years, in which children grow up, become adults, and have children of their own.” Except in modern technology, eight generations cannot happen in ten years.
There can be no question that we are witnessing enormous changes and that young leaders are probably more “hip with what kids are doing these days” than the older generation. I deeply appreciate all help I am given by those young and ever younger about technology. Many thanks. But I am not yet convinced of the relationship between being “hip with what kids are doing these days” and the ability to govern. But then again, after years of mentoring, I am open to proposals to being mentored.