On Leadership, Change and Levi’s Red Tab Jeans

Levi's Red Tag Jeans

I love my Levi’s jeans and I will not change!

When I was a teenager, I became very attached to Levi’s jeans. Most of my friends wore Levi’s Red Tab jeans and we all thought we looked pretty darned cool!

“…and so did the ladies…” (Well, at least that’s what we told each other…)

Living in a Classic

In those days Levi’s were made of heavy, dark blue denim that eventually faded to a very pleasant lighter indigo hue. The pungent odour of the blue dye was almost overwhelming until the first time they were washed.

Those were tough jeans; unstoppable in almost any situation and resilient to every sort of soil or stain.

We wore the boot-cut or regular-cut varieties because those were what all the hip young men of the day wanted to be seen in.

I never stopped wearing my Levi’s jeans and they are still the jean-of-choice in my wardrobe today.

Changing Times

Being Cool is Subjective

Armani JeansAs a young man, I had not considered that my Levi’s might become a matter of contention in my family when I became a father. My teenage children wanted “designer” jeans, created by a variety of high-priced cloth-cutters with odd sounding names.

Gone were Levi’s, GWG, and Lee jeans

In were Tommy Hilfiger, Armani and Tommy Bahama, all of whom made jeans that cost much more than my Levi’s. My kids made a point of letting me know that I was totally out of step and needed a complete denim makeover in order to move from fuddy-duddy to cool dad status.

Sadly, I never made it to that lofty level of youthful social acceptance.

Stubborn Is as Stubborn Does

Much to the chagrin of my kids, I doggedly stuck with my Levi’s.

  • I refused to change.
  • I was determined to stay the course and wear my Levi’s in the face of humiliation and potential ridicule from every teenager and cool dad in the world.
  • I was set in my ways and nothing short of a mugging at gun-point could force me into designer jeans.

Being Out of Fashion

Just as I failed as a cool dad, many managers and executives continue to fail as successful leaders today

Too many leaders believe that the old ways are the right ways or the only ways. A lot of Boomer and Generation X leaders believe that we need to:

  • Get back to basics!
  • Return to sanity!
  • Bring back the good old days!

Guess what folks…The good old days are gone…They will never return!

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On Moving On

Successful leaders in the 21st century understand that in order to be successful they must drop many of the old ways and move to a new style of people-management.

Change is difficult and the older we get, the more difficult it becomes for us to accept new things.

This is simply human nature and it is not likely to change any time soon. However, if we stand in the way of the steam-roller of change, we will surely be flattened like the pavement of a highway leading to the oblivion of bankruptcy.

Young people eventually become old people and when that happens they take over the world.

Starting New Classics

Because we will have so many Boomers leaving the workforce during this decade, we will have a faster-than-usual transition to the new guard…As the holders of the purse-strings and the possessors of the thrones-of-power move to retirement, they will be replaced by younger people who will demand a new world order.

When the young power-brokers take over, gone will be command and control management and gone will be the hierarchical class structures that govern most North American businesses today.

Gone will be the concept that the boss is always right and gone will be the idea that employees have to do what they are told unconditionally.

The new-guard will wear tee shirts and designer jeans on Wall Street and because letter-writing will be a lost art, they will text their way to success. They will eliminate boring board meetings where a few grey-haired men decide the fate of thousands and they will distribute their company’s wealth in a more equitable, almost quasi-socialistic manner.

Ironically, the new-guard were trained as children by the same old-guard that is currently resisting the changes that are as inevitable as a morning sunrise.

Starting the Change

We, the Boomers taught our children to be fair, to stand up for themselves, to take their rightful place in the world, to distrust corporations, to detest Governments, and to make the world a better place for everyone of every race, creed, colour, gender, religion, height, width, sexual bias, from any social circle and from either side of the tracks.

We have changed our children’s perceptions of social order and they will soon run their corporations with the values that we so vehemently drummed into them.

If we want our businesses to be strong and live into the future, we need to start changing our management styles now.

We need to adapt to the new world order and allow our future leaders the freedom to bring their new ways into our companies. Many companies have already started this new way of doing business and have been very successful with it. They understand that corporate hierarchy, executive superiority and grey pin-striped suits are no longer necessary for success.

Forward thinking leaders understand that in the very near future most of their customers and employees will be members of the much-dreaded Generation “Y” and that they must change their ways of thinking, managing and leading now if they want their brands to live on into the future.

I am a Boomer, very near the end of my career. I still wear my Levi’s and I am still a proud fuddy-duddy. As much as very little has changed about me, I understand that the designer-jeans-wearing leaders of the future will be every bit as successful as the Levi’s wearing crew that I grew up with. I also accept that with or without my help, they will create a new social order that will be completely appropriate for its time.

The future is inevitable. And in my eyes, it looks bright!

I have officially stopped standing in the way of progress… But I will never change my jeans!


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Wayne Kehl is President and CCO at Dynamic Leadership Inc
He is author and behavioral analyst who lectures on leadership and motivation
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Image Sources: fotothing.com

4 responses to “On Leadership, Change and Levi’s Red Tab Jeans

  1. Been there. The good thing about Levis is that the wearer is fashionable every ten-fifteen years. Of course you do know that only goes for 501’s right? Any other red tabs are just….so lame….;)


  2. Wayne,

    I, too, am a Levi’s devotee from the 1970’s who loves the old-school elements of the Levi’s Red Tab denim jeans. “Levi’s ROCK!”

    In 1980, I bought a Levi’s denim jacket while a junior in high school with the idea that I would save the classic article and one day give it to my future eldest child when they eventually turned 20-years old. I wore that jacket to many iconic classic rock concerts and events (Rolling Stones, Van Halen, Journey, Boston, and more!)

    I thought that the eventual Levi’s jacket gift could be a timeless right-of-passage time-capsule treasure that I could gift to another generation who could appreciate its timeless value. So, I saved the well-preserved iconic classic jacket and passed it on to my daughter on her 20th birthday as I had so nostalgically projected…

    Well, my 20-year old daughter (at the time) had no interest in the old Levi’s jacket “relic” and instead fashioned her eyes elsewhere toward the more fashionable icons of the day…

    I learned then that MY paradigm of “classical value” actually had a distinct shelf-life. I reluctantly learned that I needed to respect that what I valued may not be what others’ valued in their world-view. It was an eye-opening process that was altogether painful, sanguine, and liberating,

    I became aware that I needed a personal respect and attention toward the views of another generation (that seemingly had different ideals of what was valuable.) Otherwise, if I didn’t respect the views of others, my influence would be quickly become extinct.

    The lesson I learned is this:

    We all need to understand that iconic elements in our lives may have a shorter life-span than we think. We all should understand history to see where the historical markers are so that we really understand our relative environment(s) and respect when their time is over. We need to let go and allow other influences to bud, grow, prosper, and come to fruition,

    Thanks for the article Wayne! You have opened our eyes to a great way at looking at our lives and our legacies of influence!



    • Hey Tom
      I love your choice in music too! I am glad I was able to bring a little nostalgia to your life today! Have a great weekend!


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