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Applying a Generational Gearbox to Female Executive Development

June 21, 2018

Generational gearbox for talent development

The women of three generations—Baby Boomers, Generation X’ers, and Millennials—have experienced unique passages through their formative years (the first 18 to 23 years of life). Each day, they enter the workplace possessing unique generational core values, strengths, and weaknesses.

As a result, the development of female executives requires a “generational gearbox” that enables trainers and mentors to shift gears from one generation to the next. One-size-fits-all-generations development is dead. And yes, the same is true in developing male executives. Here’s a summary of the talent development picture:

Baby Boomer women (ages 54 – 72 in 2018)

Boomers had their core values of idealism and right-and-wrong pounded into them by the teachings and the times of their youth. With these values and the generation’s enormous size, they propelled forward major cultural revolutions such as the feminist, civil rights, and environmental movements.

To develop female Boomers for the C-suite, companies must tailor programs to fit their generational core values, skills, and vision. Boomer female leaders are likely to deliver:

  • A strong commitment to the highest ethics
  • Long-term thinking, instead of the current quarter-by-quarter mindset
  • Weighing of the social benefits of decisions, not just profits
  • Less complacency toward executives’ decisions
  • A willingness to ask the tough questions, such as “Why are we doing it this way?”
  • A desire to include emotional considerations in executive decision making
  • A heightened sensitivity to the “human factor” and the impact of executive decisions on workers, customers, vendors, and the community, instead of the “anything for the shareholders” attitude

These women are the “whole package,” as their formative years molded in them virtually all the key values, attitudes, and skills considered essential for good leadership.

Generation X women (ages 37 – 53)

Gen X endured the most difficult childhood in U.S. history because of the times and teachings of their formative years. Consider: The divorce rate skyrocketed as X’ers came of age. American leaders and heroes in business, government, religion, and sports were regularly caught lying and cheating and failing to deliver on their promises. The Silent Generation Leadership Era dismantled the middle class, and X’er kids saw their loyal, skilled, hardworking parents laid off as their bosses enjoyed a year-end bonus.

In addition to these unique lows, there were unique highs, especially for Gen X girls. For example, they saw all the excitement swirling around the Era of the Surging Female. Title IX legislation mandated, among other things, equal sports opportunities for boys and girls. The nation’s education system launched girl-sensitive education, “The Girl Project,” which was initially designed to wipe out girls’ historic weaknesses in science and math but did so much more.

A few of Gen X female values are self-reliance, independence, creativity, entrepreneurship, a family-first mindset, and efficiency. But beyond their control, and in sharp contrast to Boomers and Millennials, Gen X came of age during times that did not prepare them for leadership. The enormity of this problem is becoming clear as older Boomers retire and attempt to hand the reins to X’ers.

Gen X will benefit enormously from generation-specific leadership training. During their formative years, many X’ers developed core values of “survival of the fittest” and self-focus. This latter value usually clashes with the value of “we” and “us” that leadership requires.

Millennial women (ages 18 – 36)

As the Millennials came of age, parenting in America changed from the absentee, permissive approach used with Gen X kids to “baby on board” protectiveness. This created in Millennial children a strong sense of self-esteem (mostly a good thing) and an overreliance on their elders to help them with just about everything (mostly a bad thing).

The Millennials, like the Boomers, will produce a bumper crop of exceptional leaders. Because of childhood events such as the terror attack of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, Millennials grew up thinking, “We’re all in this together, so let’s truly take care of each other.” They possess, as a core value, a viewpoint that embraces “we/group/team/us” instead of “me-me-me.” And groupthink is essential to C-suite success.

As leaders, they’ll care about their workers rather than trample them with layoffs. They’re likely to be an ethical generation in the executive suite. They will care about the environment. They will be big dreamers.

But when training these women for leadership, remember that Millennials have gotten off to the rockiest young-adult start in the history of the American workplace for two primary reasons, both beyond their control (they were kids!):

  • The startling damage done to them by the technology revolution, which has eroded a long list of soft social skills
  • The overparenting that diminished self-reliance and critical thinking

Any executive development of Millennials that doesn’t devote significant attention to these two influences will be a big kerplunk.

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About The Author

Chuck Underwood is the founder and principal of generational consulting firm The Generational Imperative, Inc. One of the pioneers of generational study, he also created generation-specific leadership training. Underwood trains American and Canadian organizations in business, government, education, and religion in a comprehensive list of generational strategies. Underwood is the author of America’s Generations In the Workplace, Marketplace, and Living Room and host of the PBS national television series America’s Generations With Chuck Underwood. Contact him at chuck@genimperative.com

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