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Sharing leadership across generations

"Eyewitness to Power" by David Gergen.
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Though they live on opposite sides of the country, David Gergen and his son, Christopher Gergen, have a closeness that didn’t exist between fathers and sons in David’s generation. The Gergens regularly talk and share their experiences and will be sharing a classroom at Duke this fall, where they’ll lead a class on social enterprise.

The father-son duo also will be sharing the stage Monday from 4-5:30 p.m. as the Vail Leadership Institute hosts “Leadership Across Generations” at the Vilar Center for the Arts.

David Gergen, 65, a former White House adviser to four presidents and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard, will be sharing points from his book “Eyewitness to Power.” Christopher Gergen, 36, is a founding partner of New Mountain Ventures and author of the forthcoming book “Life Entrepreneurs.”



Gregg Vanourek, a board member of the Vail Leadership Institute and co-author of “Life Entrepreneurs,” invites parents and children to attend this interactive discussion.

“We’ll be looking at the generational transfer of leadership here ” like a transfer of wealth,” Vanourek said. “What will today’s emerging leaders be passing on in 20 years?”



The presentation and question-and-answer period to follow will focus on the family side of leadership as well as the business side.

Christopher Gergen, 36, represents the rising generation ” a generation where men take more responsibility for child rearing, and the balance between career and family are more prevalent than in any generation before it.

Generation X and the Millennial Generation will change jobs an average of 14 times before they retire, Christopher Gergen said.



“Corporate security is lost,” he said. “We’re more apt to seek out our purpose in the world through service and satisfaction. People are less content with the status quo and will push harder to have an innovative impact.”

As society pushes to balance life, work and purpose, the major pitfall is that we’re becoming a hyper-individualistic society and losing our sense of community, Christopher Gergen said.

“The average size of a house in America has doubled since 1970, yet the number of inhabitants have gone down,” he said. “We have to make a conscious choice on how we contribute to society.”

David Gergen brings with him 30 years of experience as an active participant in American life on the national scene. He served as director of communications for President Reagan and held positions in the administrations of Presidents Nixon, Ford and Clinton.

As he looks back on President Ford, he realizes that Ford’s character as a leader was often misconstrued until years after he held office.

“As we have lived through scandals since, especially during the Clinton era, Ford’s honesty also remind us of what we want our leaders to be,” Gergen writes in “Eyewitness to Power.”

David Gergen expects great things from the rising generation as they’re more rooted in the traditional values carried by the World War II generation ” thrift, discipline, valor and integrity.

“They see great merit in holding families together,” he said.

The generation that has suffered most from lack of leadership is the baby boomers, Christopher Gergen said.

“The Vietnam War was very divisive for the country and took away our confidence in the future,” he said of his own generation.

Christopher Gergen said he’s glad to have been raised in a family that values leadership in the private and public context. He’s moving to Washington, D.C., from Seattle so he can be closer to that family.

“In my generation, when you left the nest, you left the nest,” David Gergen said. “There’s more closeness now from people in their 20s and 30s with their original families. It’s a good sign.”

Though the increase in family values gives David Gergen great hope in our future, he also considers country loyalty just as important.

When David Gergen was asked to join the Clinton administration in the spring of 1993, a lot of people were surprised he’d take that job. His answer: “When the president ask you to serve, you say ‘yes.’ It’s a matter of service and responsibility to the country.”

The best advice the Gergens can give on becoming a leader yourself: Make a commitment to serving your community and carry an insatiable curiosity.

Want to get started? Tickets for “Leadership Across Generations” can be purchased at the Vilar Center Box Office or by calling 845-TIXS. David Gergen’s book will be made available from the Bookworm prior to and during the event.


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