Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The GenX Bridge

In my first post of 2011 I issued a kind of challenge to GenX association professionals. Convinced that we have a unique perspective and that our approach to leadership is something that should be more widely shared and developed, I offered The Hourglass Blog as a venue for a broader community of GenX leaders to share their ideas and experiences. What follows is a guest post from the first such professional to take me up on that offer--Jennifer Alluisi, Director of Educational Programs at Custom Management Group, an accredited association management company in Charlotteville, Virginia. Please share your thoughts with Jennifer by adding your comment to her post below. And if you're interested in taking a stab at posting yourself, email me at eric.lanke@gmail.com

Some people seem to have a doom-and-gloom view of the three prevailing generations in the workforce: “Gen Y thinks Gen X is a bunch of whiners. Gen X sees Gen Y as arrogant and entitled. And everyone thinks the Baby Boomers are self-absorbed workaholics” (Gelston, 2008). These are gross generalizations, but are there are seeds of truth in them?

I’ve seen these attitudes recently in one of the associations I work with. We’ve been working on reinvigorating the association’s professional development programs, which has led to some lengthy discussions about technology and social networking with the appointed task force and the Board of Directors. These leaders are concerned by an apparent lack of participation and engagement in the organization by younger professionals. They’re concerned about the future of their association and of their profession at large, and yet when it’s mentioned that the most effective way to reach most young professionals is through social media and their smartphones, there are always comments indicating that those things are somehow silly or a waste of time. I’ve found myself, a Gen X professional, caught between a leadership comprised of primarily Boomers/early Gen Xers and a potential audience of late Gen Xers and Gen Yers. I started to try and think of ways I could bridge that gap.

This association has a couple of different challenges to face. Obviously, the current leadership needs a little convincing that they need to meet the younger generations where they are if they hope to engage them in the organization. To an extent, this may just take time. The task force I’m working with may have to get grudging approval from the Board to try a handful of “radical” educational techniques that cost little or nothing and demonstrate that these techniques engage young professionals more than the old-fashioned way.

On the other hand, the organization is going to have to convince young professionals that the association cares about their needs, about the way they interact with the world, and about providing content that’s relevant to them through a system of delivery that’s also relevant to them. That may be the harder challenge, especially when the association has never done this in the past.

Regardless, I feel that I am in a unique position, somewhere smack dab in the middle of the two groups, to help them come together. I understand the confusion and frustration that more mature professionals may feel when they are told they need to start tweeting about their day (who has time? who cares? who's reading it and why?). I’ve been there; I’ve dug deep within myself to understand why people are even on Twitter – and now that I’ve pushed myself to understand it, I think I really get the primary value of social media and can explain it from the position of someone who once was also a little frustrated by it. I also, however, have experienced the aggravation and disdain for a professional society who is not providing any information or education that I can access without taking a week to travel to their national conference, which is eight months away. Really, association? You don’t have a recorded webinar or podcast or something on that topic that I can access now, when I actually need it? Because I understand that, I hope I can reach out to the younger professionals and get them involved – not just by providing professional development for them, but by getting them involved in the process of creating the professional development they want.

That’s just an example from my personal experience, but I think it’s relevant to this ongoing generation gap discussion. Somehow, we need to find a way to leverage generational differences, to play on each generation’s strengths to make a stronger organization. What if we, as Gen X, reached out to the groups on either side of us? What if we could show the Boomers that they could learn from Gen Y in our associations, and show Gen Y that there is room for their ideas and leadership? Could Gen X bridge the gaps between all three generations?


Eric Lanke said...

Your post is a good illustration of the need for associations to start embracing leadership models that bring all three generations together. In today's environment, no one generation should be solely in charge of what success looks like, and multi-generational leadership teams may be a way to capitalize on the strengths that everyone brings to the table.

Your proposal that GenX could serve as a bridge between Boomers and Millennials is an interesting one, and it certainly seems consistent with the natural pragmatism often ascribed to Xers. They say we're more likely than others to just go with what works, rather than judge the value of an idea based on its source or our own idealogical bias, but I'm not sure that's as universal as some people say. What's been your experience?

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