Now Reading: Generation X : The Leaders We Need Now

No one markets to Generation X like they do to Baby Boomers and Generation Y. 10-15 years ago, there were commercials on TV encouraging people to treat themselves to a new Lexus. Now, the commercials are about planning for retirement. Then again, my automobile is Zipcar, so it’s just as well that there are no Lexus commercials for us.

We, the Zipcar generation, are a little different, which is what this article from Harvard Business Review (which is behind a pay-wall, your organization may have access to a license) points out, along with some aspects of our growth and development that make for a different kind of leader. I empathized with several of them.

Our focus on collaboration: We’re not digital natives but we are digital tourists, that never went back home. We’re more focused on creating networks and less on competing for scarce resources, because there are less of us than there were of the generation before us. I almost think the size of one’s network divided by the number of direct reports is a more important assessment of impact than place in the org chart.

More about questions than answers: We want to see what’s out there because we think something else is always out there, one of the reasons it’s hard to market to us (see Lexus example above).

Embrace disruptive innovation and diversity in general: We didn’t live through a golden age at any point in our upbringing, and we tended to see institution after institution not live up to its values. I have spoken here previously about early experiences I had with organizations like the American Medical Association in the medical era that saw the emergence of HIV and a profession that was unprepared and/or (at times) unwilling to care for its victims.

Our generation has seen the impact of lack of diversity and celebrate the improvements that came with more of it:

The richly multicultural experiences of Xers give them a more unconscious acceptance of diversity than preceding generations had. Their formative years followed the civil rights advances of the 1960s and paralleled the gay rights movement. Thanks to high divorce rates and a large number of women entering the workforce, they are the first generation to grow up with women in independent authority roles.

There’s a comment in the article about the occasional GenXer who felt that Baby Boomers wanted us to “become” them – I have experienced this feeling in some situations, interesting that this is called out as well.

All of this said, all of us this in this group are not the same – in my glass half-fullness, I don’t endorse or feel the negativity expressed toward the other generations in the discussion. In fact, I would say the fact that we embrace disruptive innovation makes us more likely, rather then less, to want to mentor Generation Y and learn from them. I also don’t think Baby Boomers are a one act show either – at least on the technology front, there’s evidence that there’s less of a generation gap than people think. I would like to think that Boomers and Gen Xers have many of the same beliefs and attitudes, and perhaps our role is to demonstrate the expression of those, to the capacity that we can.

In any event, I thought it useful to post information about this article, because there are so few of them, and of course, it is immediately followed by an article about Generation Y (whose mentorship techniques, by the way, I would be just as interested in engaging in).


Ted Eytan, MD