WHAT ARE WE MISSING? Problems with using generational cohorts in leadership research and suggestions for a better direction

The rising costs of recruiting and hiring workers and the seismic shift of age demographics in the United States workforce has created much stir around the concept of generational cohorts. Although much has been done by researchers and practitioners alike to attempt a better understanding of each generational group’s leadership preferences, confusing and contradictory results has attracted much criticism. This critique has inspired efforts to look at the concept of leadership and followership preference through an alternative lifespan developmental lens. Because leadership influences are inherently social influences, a person’s overall lifespan development level may potentially provide a deeper perspicacity of the phenomenon than examining it from the more conventional generational cohort perspective. However, specific research into this area is lacking. This paper adds to the literature by uncovering what we are missing in research and practice when we look at age-related leadership phenomena solely from a generational cohort perspective. A review of the contradicting literature on generational cohorts and leadership is offered. Next, specific lifespan developmental theories are examined, and propositions and implications of such research are extended.