December 13, 2018
The largest healthcare organization in America, the Veterans Health Administration, asked me to train 60 elite leadership candidates in generational workforce management and leadership strategies. When we finished, a Generation X female candidate came up to me and said with discouragement in her voice, “I don’t think our generation even wants to lead.”
Hmm. After that experience, when I asked other audiences around the country about her comment, a noteworthy percentage of X’ers agreed with it.
For certain, there are many X’ers who do want to lead and will be excellent at it. Their generation has proven to be smart, adaptive, sensitive, no-nonsense efficient, and especially brilliant at creating new products, services, and workplace efficiencies. They’re entrepreneurial and open to new ideas.
But a phenomenon is beginning in American management: Beyond their control, the generation steadily advancing into the executive suites, and whose generational core values will dictate the direction of their organizations and the United States in the 2030s and 2040s, was not prepared by the all-important times and teachings of their formative years to “lead.”
Generation X, whose members were born from 1965 to 1981 and are aged 37 to 53 in 2018, came of age from the 1970s to the early 2000s. This is a unique and very troubled period in American history. Consider:
Everywhere X’er kids looked as they were growing up and forming their generation’s powerful and lifelong core values, the people in charge were consistently letting them down. So words like “executive,” “corporation,” “politician,” and “leader” were profoundly offensive to them. Why would we ever aspire to that?!
Today, now deeply into adulthood, many X’ers have a career track record of preferring to work for smaller employers and private companies than for publicly owned ones. And in significant numbers, they are working on their own as sole proprietors and freelancers.
There’s an additional leadership problem: For every eight Boomers born in America, only six X’ers were born. Roughly 80 million Boomers versus 60 million X’ers means that there are not enough replacements when Boomer leaders retire.
And so, here is the mandate—and the new opportunity—for all American employers: They must train their Gen X’er leaders and leaders-to-be not just in a generic “Leadership 101” way but, much more important, in an advanced “Gen X Leadership 501” way. Employers need to have a deep-dive workshop that is generation-specific and customized only to Gen X participants.
And from the field of generational study, here is the even bigger “big picture” for American management: Two generations of American kids, Gen X’ers and Millennials, have never seen the magnificent management culture that Boomers and older generations witnessed in their formative years.
Unless and until American management, coast to coast and across all industries, actually demonstrates with its decisions that employees are its greatest assets, who will give the company a great day of work if only management will stand on the same side of the fence as them and endeavor to recapture the notion of long-term job security, then those managers should fully expect the continuation—and worsening—of both aversion to leadership positions with larger companies and the frequency of job-hopping by all generations.
Don’t blame workers. Management created it, so management can correct it. But will they?