Monday, March 23, 2009

Gen X not worth studying?

A friend pointed me at this blog entry, where the author is citing statistics from a recent study done by Accenture on consumer electronics usage. Responses are broken down by generation and focused, evidently, on the only two that matter—Baby Boomers and Generation Y.

I couldn't find the actual study online, but the news story in the consumer electronics trade press the blog author points to seems to confirm that the study grouped respondants into only two generational categories—Boomers if the respondant was 45 or older, and Generation Y if 44 or younger.

Now, I know the start and stop years associated with each generation can vary a little depending on your source, but has anyone ever seen such an oversimplification? And what does it say about Accenture's expectations for variation of usage (and spending habits) among age groups that they believe these are the only categories worth looking at?

A story about a more segmented study on the same subject can be found here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Hourglass Blog Gets a Plug at the WSAE Meeting

I participated in a panel discussion called "Get Linked! Using Social Networking to Energize Members" at the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE) meeting yesterday in Madison, WI. In addition to having a great time discussing all kinds of social networking with my local peers, I also got the chance to plug The Hourglass Blog, and spend some time talking about my initial impressions as an association blogger.

I spoke of the need for passion. Not a passion for blogging, but a passion for the subjects you're blogging about. Any effort built on enthusiasm for the mechanism rather than for the message is probably a passing fad.

Everyone was very kind to me, and there were a lot of thoughtful questions and comments made by folks in the audience—some boomers, some Xers, maybe one or two Millennials—all trying to define the personal and professional value of social networking for themselves and their associations.

I encouraged people to think about this passion issue when trying to decide how to use social networking tools with their members. Who should drive your new initaitive? The twenty-something with 600 friends on Facebook? Maybe. Her familiarity with the technology will undoubtedly help you avoid some deep pitfalls. But unless she has a passion for what your association does, you probably don't want her to be the only one involved in constructing the new virtual environment in which your members will be interacting.

If you attended the WSAE session and you're reading this now, please leave a comment on this post, even if it's just to say "hello," or to let me know you heard what I was saying and it connected with you. I think it would be great if we could establish a discussion here about how different generations view and utilize social networking technologies.

The Opposite of Micromanaging

At the Great Ideas conference in Miami earlier this year I did a session with Jeff De Cagna on leadership lessons from 80s music (chronicled on the Get Me Jamie Notter blog starting here), and one of the lessons I talked about was "learn about generations." In preparing for that talk I started to reflect on what it has been like over the last eight months being an executive director of a small association and working with other staff at the AMC where I am employed. 

Specifically, I have received feedback both from my volunteer leaders and the staff I'm working with that I needed to "show up" more and have more of a "presence." This is valuable feedback and I'm working on it, but it also got me thinking about generational issues. I happen to fit the Gen X stereotype perfectly when it comes to independence and a distaste for micromanaging. I was the typical "latch-key" kid who took care of himself growing up, and it's true that in my previous jobs I tended to bristle against the boss being too involved with what I was doing.

So, not surprisingly, now that I'm the boss I tend to work with others to figure out what the direction is or what the tasks are, and then I leave them alone. It was interesting to get the feedback from others that this wasn't welcomed by others (in different generations) as much as I unconsciously assumed it would be. The Board even considered my lack of presence a bit of a "vacuum" that needed to be filled.

So as more and more top leadership positions get filled by Generation Xers, how is the typical leadership behavior going to change? More importantly, how will the system react? Because of the overall population numbers (Generation x being the small middle of the hourglass) it is quite likely that even at the top of the org chart, Gen X will be a minority in the system (in my example the Board is almost all Boomers and the staff feedback came from Millennials) so it's not about some new Gen X leadership style taking over. It's about shifting the organization's capacity, and maybe its culture a bit, to account for new leadership behaviors.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Why the Military Produces Great Leaders

I found this article on to be interesting, especially the following quote:

"The current economic environment, partly caused by a crisis of self-service leadership, has created belt-tightening reminiscent of a world war, with budgets slashed, travel funding restricted, training programs cut, personnel layoffs, and other draconian, cash-saving measures in place. CEOs have to start leading like generals—even if that means living a lifestyle in common with their troops."

The author implies that there are two basic styles of leadership—one in which the leader serves him or herself, and another in which the leader serves the people he or she leads.

The comment thread on the article is also interesting, as people debate whether or not the military approach to leadership—the one is which the leader serves others—is really best for the business world.

It all makes me wonder about different leadership styles in associations, and the perspectives that leaders from different generations might bring to the question. In my own experience, the association leaders who "lead for others" are always more beloved than those who "lead for themselves," but I'm not sure they are any more effective.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lunch Conversation with a Boomer

I was having lunch with a Baby Boomer colleague of mine the other day and I told him about this new blog that Jamie and I have started to help spark a dialogue on the effects and potential of generational change at the leadership level of associations. He was intrigued by the idea, and had what I found to be an interesting gut reaction.

When I described for him my wish to explore the boundaries of what I see as a "leadership opportunity" for Generation X (i.e., the shifting generational perspectives providing the new leadership generation with an opportunity to change the role and core functions of the associations that serve our society), he immediately asked two questions:

1. Are GenXers willing to invest themselves in this process? Are they willing to leverage the learning of their predecessors and to foster the meaningful participation of and positive outcomes for themselves and their successors?


2. Are GenXers willing to apply the courage and work necessary to lead?

My first reaction was—What? How dare he! Of course "we're" willing to invest and apply ourselves. But then, upon reflection, our society's set of established perceptions and expectations for Generation X invaded my thinking, and left me feeling a whole lot less sure.

I realized that these questions asked by my Boomer friend are valid ones—and critical to any kind of dialogue I hope to have on this blog about my generation's leadership potential.

So, let's hear it, Xers. Are you ready to lead? Do you see the same opportunity I do?