A good boss is hard to find. Make that very hard, according to the annual Manpower labor survey, which listed “executive/management” slots among the five hardest positions to fill in 2009, even as unemployment topped 10 percent. Now, with an estimated 10 million baby boomers eligible to retire by the end of the year, economists seem more worried than ever about an impending “corporate-leadership crisis.” Theories abound to explain the workplace phenomenon, but Stanford business professor Jeffrey Pfeffer may have cracked the case by observing his students. “The problem,” says Pfeffer, author of the new book Power: Why Some People Have It—and Others Don’t, “is that ambition has become unfashionable in the younger segment of the workforce.” Whereas motivated young professionals used to slug it out for coveted pro-motions, many of today’s B-school graduates find such interoffice competition uncouth. Famously team--oriented, millennials would rather collaborate with their co--workers than compete.
Pfeffer blames this attitude on a culture of coddling, one that allows high schools to appoint multiple valedictorians and gives trophies to both T-ball teams, regardless of who wins. Still, the current climate, where even a little gumption stands out, could be good news for go-getters. In Power, Pfeffer writes about a young Deloitte recruit who not only insisted on meeting with the CEO before taking the job, but also requested a yearly dinner with him (which he got). That kind of audacity may not make you a lot of friends in the modern workplace—but it can get you a corner office.