As a Generation X executive leader, I realize my generation is known as the forgotten middle child. As part of the group born between 1965 and 1984, we are overshadowed by discussions about the multigenerational workforce with baby boomers ahead of us and millennials behind.
As an African-American Gen X woman, I am often the only one with my demographic seated at the table on key decisions in conferences and meetings. This creates an opportunity to drive for more inclusive discussions that may not be happening often in executive board rooms.
Being the sole representative of a group is not enough. The leader who can both influence others to be successful and bridge the gap in cross cultural environments where communication can be a challenge, is a valuable asset.
In a recent survey of 19 countries by INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute, researchers found, “Across the globe, becoming a leader was important to 61 percent of Gen Y, 61 percent of Gen Z, and 57 percent of Gen X respondents.”
According to the Global Leadership Forecast 2018, “Gen X digital savvy is balanced by strength in more conventional leadership skills such as driving execution and building talent, which are areas in which Millennials rated themselves lower than both Baby Boomer and Gen X leaders.”
These following four skills help in connecting across all generations for effective Gen X leadership.
Serve as a bridge over generational divides.
One advantage of the middle child generation is that in the beginning of most of their careers, Gen X workers began working exclusively with baby boomer leaders, who tend to be solutions-oriented. With millennials directly reporting to baby boomers and struggling to connect with them, Gen X leaders can be the bridge. Equally important is helping baby boomers understand how millennials are often easier to relate to in environments where coaching and mentoring with immediate feedback of work is most desirable.
Cultivate an executive presence.
The equalizer for new and emerging leaders arrives with a strong sense of executive presence. How that translates in the workplace is by exuding confidence in communicating in a clear, compelling and concise way regardless of generational differences. The Global Leadership report from DDI, The Conference Board and EY with support from CNBC, shows that “67 percent of Gen X leaders are also effective in ‘hyper-collaboration,’ and are working relentlessly to break down organizational silos.”
Connect through social capital.
This refers to a form of economic and cultural capital that builds interpersonal relationships of valuable connection to others.
A Generation X leader can understand multiple points of view across generations because of being a deep consumer of social media connection. In its 2016 Social Media Report, Nielsen found, “Generation X (ages 35-49) spends the most time on social media: almost 7 hours per week versus Millennials, who come in second, spending just over 6 hours per week. They’re female, 25 percent of their time online is spent on social media (vs.19 percent of males), and they reach across cultures. They’re likely to be on Facebook on Sundays via smartphone, while watching primetime.”
Gain expertise through versatility.
Being an example of an adaptable leader is a strength. Corporate downsizing has made Generation X a witness and to frequent career transitions
in multiple sectors. This perspective allows the Gen X leader to engage in a management style that encourages making strategic career moves rather than lateral moves with no plans for advancement.
It also shows how grit is important to forge a career path to leadership when no direct one is easy to find. According to research from Capella University, “Members of Gen X place less emphasis on social rewards and define success through merits, not seniority.”
As a Generation X leader, I see it is important to possess a strong sense of self-awareness to work through maintaining career relevance when it feels as if I am labeled as less marketable than my peers.
The good news, according to the Global Leadership report, is, “Gen X now accounts for 51 percent of leadership roles globally. With an average of 20 years of workplace experience, they are primed to quickly assume nearly all top executive roles.”
We are ready.
Alicia Morgan is vice president of education and programs at Frontiers of Flight Museum, a TEDx speaker and Women of Color in STEM Conference K-12 Promotion of Education Honoree. She is a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.