Monday, January 18, 2010

Xers and Recessionary Leadership

I've linked to couple of articles by Tammy Erickson before. As a leadership guru, she seems a little more pro-Generation X than a lot of her colleagues. She's got a new book out, What's Next, Gen X?: Keeping Up, Moving Ahead, and Getting the Career You Want, and as part of the promotion for that book, the Harvard Business Blog put up this short audio interview with her. I found it to be an interesting perspective on the leadership strengths that she thinks GenX brings to the table, especially at this difficult time.

Most of the coverage I've seen about generations and the Great Recession seems focused on the Millennials, and about how the economic calamity may have derailled them and their careers. Newsweek, in fact, had a big story about it a few weeks ago, comparing them to the generation that came of age during the Great Depression.

Well, Erickson seems to say the more interesting generation to watch in the wake of the Great Recession is GenX.

First of all, let's look at how the Recession has hit the different generations. Everyone got hit hard--Boomers losing large portions of their retirement nest eggs and Millennials trying to get their careers started when there are far fewer opportunities for them. But isn't it the Xers who have the more pressing financial realities to deal with? Xers are now in the prime of life--the middle of their careers. They're the ones with unpaid mortgages and young kids who will need money for college in ten to fifteen years.

But in many ways, Erickson believes GenX is ready for this trouble. After all, they grew up during the little 'r' recession of the 1980s, and they watched as the adults in their lives got laid off and abandoned by the companies they had staked their careers on. This, remember, was really the beginning of corporate downsizing, of actually letting people go in hard times, and the expectations for lifelong employment at a single company were much more realistic than they are today. Because of this experience, GenX learned how to keep its options open, to not put too many eggs in the same basket, and to keep an eye out for themselves because no one else had any reason to.

And these are exactly the leadership traits that will be necessary to see our way through this Recession. Erickson says the other two generations tend to belittle this "let's keep our options open" perspective--calling it wishy-washy and indecisive. She compares that view to the criticisms levelled against President Obama for taking too long to make decisions and for letting the legislative process decide what's best instead of moving forward with a more principled stand. Think what you want about the President, but when GenX does this it isn't indecisiveness. A "keep the options open" leadership style means going with what works instead of what is needed to validate a particular perspective or point of view.

Most Xers I know are better at dealing with uncertainty and change than either their older or their younger colleagues. Erickson isn't surprised by that, and she says these are just the kind of leaders we need now to move our organizations forward.


Marc A. Pitman, said...

As an Xer, I find this so encouraging.

Thanks for the post!

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