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?


Maddie Grant said...

Sounds to me like he's asking if we're willing to lead like they led. Which would be "No" - we'll lead like we already lead. By carving our own path and doing things how we want to do them and encouraging others to do things their own way and not necessarily our way.

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE said...

I was thinking along the same lines as Maddie. We are the most entrepreneurial generation in recent memory, and we're highly independent and not terribly receptive to authority and hierarchy (that's not me talking - that's Strauss & Howe again) - so yes, we're ready to lead. We're ALREADY leading. It just doesn't look like you expected it to.

pdigh said...

Interesting. I would ask my fellow boomer two sets of questions in return:

1. Are Boomers willing to acknowledge that the way GenXers invest themselves in leading looks different than the way Boomers did it, but is no less valid? Is he willing to actually admit he might have something to learn from GenXers and to give up enough control to foster the meaningful participation of the next generation?


2. Are Boomers willing to admit that GenXer courage and hard work rest on the same fundamental values but can look quite different from Boomer behavior?

Helen Mosher said...

It's really difficult to not throw up a collective yawn at Boomers' lack of faith in the generation behind them at this point. If you're reflecting that society has decreed us sub-par to led, why aren't we aggressively trying to change that instead of allowing that to shape how we see ourselves? Self-fulfilling prophesies be damned.

If Boomers would quit leveling the criticism at us that we don't trust their wisdom, we could spend less time bristling that they don't trust our instincts. I think that's the vicious cycle we're in that needs to stop.

Lynn said...

Okay, so I'm not an X'er, I'm a Y'er and my 2 cents are trending along the same lines as my fellow X'ers, except that I think the Y generation would like to lead even sooner. I can't remember a time when I've heard of so many 20-something CEOs, can you? But just like the X'ers, we aren't going to lead the way the boomers did. Life is too busy now and micro-volunteering will be the way to keep our interest. Minimal time commitment for maximum gains.

Eric Lanke said...

Well, looks like I touched a nerve with this one. Thanks, all, for the great and thoughtful comments.

In defense of my Boomer friend (who I hope is reading this and will decide to chime in himself), as an individual I have found him to be VERY open to the idea of learning—from Xers, from Boomers, from anyone. So I don't think his questions were meant to be dismissive.

But I also find it interesting the way some Xers act as if they have nothing to learn from older generations. There seems to be a lot of grumbling on both sides of the generational fence. In the end, I think I agree with the spirit of Helen's comment—such animosity is counterproductive and only leads to self-fulfilling prophecies.

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE said...

I'm going to have to rely on Strauss & Howe again, but I think there is a certain degree of Gen-X cynicism/disregard for Boomers...because (insert 5-year-old voice) "they started it!" According to the Lifecourses research, Boomers have largely been unwilling to mentor Xers or provide or help us find opportunities to grow and learn and stretch ourselves. So we've had to figure out our own ways. *Now* Boomers are unhappy that we're not doing it their way? Too late, man.

Jamie Notter said...

Strauss and Howe also point out that typically most generations have a distaste for the generation after them, but then take a liking to the one after that (I've seen some Boomer-Millennial love fests). This also means, by the way, that Gen X might not be so happy with Millennials over time (Maggie McGary's post?). Bottom line, though, I am not aware of research that really shows Gen X not learning from previous generations. And I have never heard of any generation not having courage or determination or leadership. They just do it differently.

Luxury Resort Destinations said...

I have a strong desire to lead and I am a Gen'Xer. I don't think the leadership that led us down this path of horror should stay at the helm. Some Gen'X'ers like myself actually want to lead and work hard.....my child's future is dependent upon what Gen. X does to respond to the crisis. Hopefully our generation can bring accountability back to the business and social world.

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