The Greatest Gift Boomers Can Give Millennials? Integrity And Courage!

Posted on April 15, 2016


“To you from failing hands we throw . . . The torch; be yours to hold it high” 

During the First World War, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote the famous poem In Flanders Fields from which the above quote was taken.

His words have come to symbolize both the tragedy of war, and the demands it places on the ones that carry on the legacy of honor from those who went before them.

While the First World War ended almost a century ago, the underlying values expressed by McCrae endure.

Beyond honor and courage, these values include integrity and a view of the world beyond one’s self, and one’s own interests.

A new study from Deloitte also found differences in workplace attitudes between Millennials and older generations, saying that the former “want to work for organizations that foster innovative thinking, develop their skills and make a positive contribution to society.” – February 14th, 2014 CNBC article

Countless studies suggest that millennials – while likely unaware of McCrae himself – have a strong connection with the very values represented in his poem.

Actions, as do their underlying values, speak louder than words.

For example, and according to a December 8th, 2015 CNBC article,  “A hefty 84 percent of millennials made a charitable donation in 2014, and 70 percent spent at least an hour volunteering.”

This says a great deal suggests the article’s author, Landon Dowdy, as millennials are “a cash-strapped group with overwhelming amounts of student debt.”

Within this context, it should be no surprise to anyone that the up and coming generation expects the same , if not more, from the companies for whom they work.

A Deloitte study found that millennials “want to work for organizations that foster innovative thinking, develop their skills and make a positive contribution.”

This latter point was further confirmed by a more recent 2015 study from IBM. Specifically that millennials have an equal or greater desire than their predecessors to have a positive impact on their organizations and, help solve social and environmental challenges.


From a career standpoint, millennials are hard pressed to achieve these objectives on their own. Besides working  with companies whose values and goals align with theirs, they also require mentorship from those who came before them.

“Mentor; a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.” – Wikipedia

From the standpoint of the procurement world, is the previous (boomer) generation, up to the task?

Industry thought leaders such as Dr. Robert Handfield and Kate Vitasek have suggested that the boomers may not be capable of assuming such a role.


During an interview on my radio show, Dr. Handfield indicated that there is a definite and definitive break between the generation that came before, and the one stepping into the promise of a brave, new world.

Vitasek was less generous in a separate interview, suggesting that it is not until all of the dinosaurs of the industry have completely died off, that the profession will finally come into its own.

At this point, some of you reading this will likely stop, and dismiss this as an undeserved attack on both your personal character, and procurement professionals as a whole.

Others may become more vociferous in their protest that what the text suggests is outrageous.

Such reactions would be understandable.

However, this doesn’t mean that they are unwarranted.

Worthy To Pass The Torch?

It is not entirely a question of whether the knowledge boomers have to share is worthwhile. It is more a question of a long-standing and pervasive attitude of servitude acquiescence, that is rooted in a fear of rocking the boat or standing out from the herd. This is the real problem, as it suggests that boomers lack the courage to stand-up for important values.  It makes one wonder if integrity and taking a stand for one’s beliefs, is trumped by the security of not getting involved.

In other words, does the new generation of procurement professionals want to accept what could be the remnants of  a burnt-out stick with an extinguished flame, from a questionable source.

Just consider for a moment my recent articles on the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing’s (NIGP) refusal to release the findings of a forensic audit.

Given the revelations from the #CodeGate scandal, the audit -which was prompted by serious concerns regarding the potential conflict of interest between the association and the organizations with whom it has strategic relations, should be readily available for all to review.

Instead, and in an effort to keep the findings from the audit secret, the NIGP has retained the services of one of the country’s most notable law firms.

Shrouded in obfuscating legalese, a letter from the NIGP’s counsel provided a litany of reasons as to why the association would not comply with my request to obtain a copy. They even went so far as to “discourage” me from “attempting to solicit this information from individual members of the NIGP Governing Board, past and present.”

As I would write in my original article, while I do not know what is in the audit and related material, the refusal to provide copies does raise some serious questions. Especially given that the NIGP is responsible for educating public sector procurement professionals, who themselves are required to operate in an environment of full transparency. In short, how can you preach and teach transparency, when you don’t practice it yourself.

This speaks directly to the focus of today’s post.

If the NIGP, which is an international not-for-profit educational and technical organization of public procurement agencies that was established in 1944, does not adhere to the very values that the millennials hold near and dear, then why would the new generation want anything to do with the association?

One Bad Apple

Whether it is fair or not, the NIGP’s actions also tarnish the reputations of those Governing Board members, past and present, who have read the audit and have chosen to remain silent?

Does their silence suggest agreement regarding the association’s decision to withhold information, or does it reflect an intimidated acceptance and a lack of personal courage to stand-up for openness.

I wonder what millennials would do in a similar situation?


In the end, it is not the knowledge you have, but the wisdom you impart that ultimately matters. However, to matter – especially when you want to be looked upon as a mentor – you must have something worthwhile to say, and have someone that is willing to hear you.

When it comes to millennials, it is clear that their willingness to hear you, is based upon whether or not you have their respect and trust.


Posted in: Commentary