What kind of Leadership propels Gen X and Y to perform at their best?

uest Post on Gaia Insights

Gen X places Leaders on a pedestal because as we’ve experienced, it takes years and the right mix of intelligence / management skills to become a Leader. Oddly enough, Gen X expects to pay our dues while Gen Y expects to be Leaders early in their career.

And we paid our dues.  Like the 1987 film, The Secret of My Success, many of us started at the bottom and fought hard to climb higher, to “become a suit”. Gen X started careers in the booming 1980’s and 1990’s where the penthouse C-suite had private elevators, several secretaries, catered lunches and helicopters. Gen X has climbed up, down and sideways through the ranks of organizations like traditional banks, e-commerce start-ups, over-regulated corporations, and ad agencies that were right out of Mad Men.

So with many years behind us, and jobs moving away from us, Gen X wants a Leader who will notice and respect our hard work ethic and wisdom over rising Gen Y and Z. Whom you work for defines your future success because your Leader is the one who has the ultimate power over your career, not you.

Presence – None of our Business

Gen X does not expect their Leaders to be in the office very much, or even reachable.  One, they’ve earned the right to have the ultimate flexibility and two, we respect their seniority and privacy. However, we would like them to be more reachable than they have been in the past. As we age and get out-done in technology, more interaction would give us more job security. 

Majority of Gen X professionals have been going into the office 5 days a week since we graduated college. We’ve worked hard through marriages, babies, divorces, teenagers, and elder-care. If we can do it, our Leaders better do it, and hopefully better than we do. Gen X is accustomed to their boss working longer, later and much harder and when you see that drive in action, that Leader gets more of your respect. We think, “For that pay and title, they’d BETTER be working harder than me.” 

We expect that because we’re used to hierarchies: Gen X doesn’t expect frequent access to the C-Suite if we’re not a direct report. But when we do get access, it’s a big deal. We break out the blazers and tights, polish the PowerPoints and practice away. Here’s our chance to remind them of WHAT WE KNOW, our brilliant work and make a memorable impression……that is if they look up from their hard copy decks  during the presentation

Dialogue – On an “As-Needed” Basis

Starting our careers in the 1980’s with very little technology (aside from faxing), we relied on the power of personal communication to climb, lead, befriend, network, learn and mentor.That’s what we’re used to, and we expect it from our Leaders. In Gen X’s professional childhood, dialogue meant primarily spoken conversation; today it is primarily digital which to Gen X, can feel disrespectful and impersonal. We want spoken dialogue and a good Leader makes sure personal conversations with his or her employees occur frequently. And the Leader needs to look up and listen – no screens!

Gen X prefers less than more guidance because we’ve been raised, educated and trained to operate independently. We don’t expect to have too much dialogue with our superiors, and when we do, we are grateful to have the opportunity.  Gen X is fine with as-needed scheduled face to face meetings, especially when the Leader shows up personally because “showing up” means they respect you.  It gives you security that your Leader will give you time, which means they like your work… which means you’ll have a job for a couple more years… and you might be able to afford sending child #3 to college before you retire.

For a Gen X who aspires to become a Leader today, or to train an aspiring Gen Y, someone has to teach them the “practical knowledge”, or the social and behavioral nuances of the industry that can only be learned through consistent verbal dialogue.  Schools teach technical knowledge which are the rules and recipes like a cookbook but as David Brooks writes, what’s important for leadership is, “knowing when to depart from the cookbook”.

Transparency – If you’re Lucky

To Gen X, transparency is a desired quality but not one we’ve always witnessed. But we’re used to operating in an opaque environment where too much of our time is spent wondering what the boss thinks, or who’s getting promoted or demoted and why.  So we keep our heads down hoping not to rock the boat until we’re privy to the precious information.

But today because more conversations are written than spoken, it’s much easier for a Leader to avoid transparency.  Written exchanges don’t have the emotional or facial elements that help people persuade each other.  And social media can interfere with any relationship… how many times did you wish you just called or said something in person?

Just because we don’t expect transparency, doesn’t mean we don’t want it. The best Leaders I’ve worked for were also Gen X, because we understood each other and thus, were more likely to support each other. One was the CMO who met with the Marketing Team weekly, face to face, and shared market share and ecommerce results for an hour. Gosh, were we grateful for that! The other was a full time Director / fellow working mother who was never approved to work part time.  Instead of making my career / life balance more difficult, she paved the way for me and other women to work part time.

When a Leader “shows their cards” in a corporation, like Howard Schultz as CEO of Starbucks, it is motivating to see vulnerability trump politics.

I wonder if our Leaders know just how much they mean to our careers. Now that Gen X are in many leadership positions themselves, we see how challenging it is to meet the constant NEEDS of Gen Y and dodge the rigid DEMANDS of Boomers. Having transparent dialogues when the Leader-Employee relationship begins will help de-clutter expectations and skepticisms.  Technology is great for  communicating facts and “recipes” but a good Leader has to learn how to make practical decisions, to know “when to depart from the cookbook”.  


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