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Hirschhorn: Lessons in Leadership and Risk-Taking from Boomers

Baby Boomers, in general, tend to be associated with the rejection or redefinition of traditional values.

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Their desire to question authority, experience new things and find their own sense of greatness and meaning in a changing, uncertain world makes them of particular interest to me as a Peak Performance Coach to the Wall Street Elite. In many ways, their willingess to take risk and then execute it makes them a group of remarkable entrepreneurs.

From a greatness factor, what did Baby Boomers teach us about leadership? And, like any catalyst of change, what are the ripple effects we are going to be dealing with as a result of their efforts?

Lessons In Leadership

Boomers taught us the importance of timing and having the courage to stand up and think for ourselves. That one simple sentence has a profound impact if properly executed. Just think about what Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have done in the past few decades: From the way we process, store and create information to how their unique creations opened the door for countless others to catapult us into the cell phone, search engine, social networking, Google, Facebook, Twitter, et al. world we live in today.

Having the courage to step outside the box and bet on yourself, like many Baby Boomers did, is something that many recent leaders in business (and in politics) have tended to stay away from; they have a tremendous fear of failure and believe that if they fail, it is too painful and hard to recover from professionally. As a result, they often are ineffective and just go through the motions until their turn is over. What a waste of an opportunity!

Psychology: Reality and Risk-Taking

A large part of the barrier is genetically imbedded in us because survival and self-preservation are core, basic drivers for all humans. The convention wisdom says taking risk is bad for your health (and career) so why do it? It is much better to fly under the radar and not make any waves. Yeah, I see that and I get it. But is it really better?

We all would agree that throughout the history of humanity, if people never took risks, then society would never have evolved to where we are today. And, as we all are currently experiencing right now, sometimes you can play it safe and the world still changes around you.

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This can leave us feeling betrayed, angry, depressed and abandoned. But for people who understand and are comfortable with the idea of risk, change is viewed as an exciting opportunity to create and reinvent.

That’s the 'Baby Boomer Psychology' and that is what we all could reconnect with right now. Stop focusing on what you used to have or be or do and start to think about what you could have or be or do. The Baby Boomers were unique in the sense that as a group, risk-seeking and thinking outside the box was the normal reality they created. Seriously, how great is that?

Find Your Own Place Called Great

What worries me today is that we seem to have over-evolved in the area of independent thought and there is a lack of risk management in our society. I am not talking only on an economic scale, but also on a personal, self-awareness level. People don’t seem as focused on finding their true passion, identifying great opportunities and building a career around it, so they can find their own place called great.

Instead, the interest seems to be on superficial things like getting a few minutes of fame on YouTube or making fast money in some limited value-added endeavor. Divorce rates are at an all-time high. Happiness levels are at an all time low. Life satisfaction, personal values and what is really important as a human being all seem to be moving in the wrong direction.

We are all to blame. All of us. And most of us are guilty of feeding into it as well. Does that make us hypocrites? Does it mean we are destined for miserable and unfulfilled lives? No, I do not believe that kind of world is a guaranteed result, but I do believe that it is certainly a possible outcome for many of us.

Manage the Risk Better

It’s just like learning to cut your losers as a trader or investor. As a trading psychology coach, I know about the psychology of risk management—great trading is not about making money, it is about keeping it. That means you have to know when you are in a bad trade and have the courage and discipline to cut your loss and move on. As long as you have the freedom to choose, then you have the power to change.

Thank you, Baby Boomers, for the inspiration and the life lessons.

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  • Quiz: Test Your Boomer Smarts Here
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      Doug Hirschhorn is the chief executive officer of Edge Consulting, a firm specializing in “Peak Performance Coaching.” He holds a Ph.D. in Psychology with a specialization in sport psychology, and has offices in New York and South Florida. His client list includes elite athletes as well as many of the largest banks, hedge funds and financial institutions in the world. Doug is presently at work on his new book, Street Smarts (Putnam, 2010).

      Have a question for Doug? You can reach him through his Web site, DrDoug.com

      Disclaimer: Doug Hirschhorn's expertise is in the psychology of achieving peak performance. He is not a financial advisor and does not make trading or investment recommendations or provide trading or investment advice. He is an expert on the mental game. Although Doug Hirschhorn has a Ph.D. in Psychology with a specialization in sport psychology, he is not a licensed psychologist and does not provide therapeutic, clinical or counseling services.

      Watch "Tom Brokaw Reports: Boomer$!", Thursday, March 4 at 9pm ET on CNBC. The program will also air Saturday, March 6 at 7pm ET; Sunday, March 7th at 9pm ET; and Monday, March 8th at 8pm ET.