Leverage the experience of Gen X: With baby boomer retirements, they are poised to assume leadership

Generation X

A number of years ago, when the issue of generational challenges emerged, the theme was, “There are four generations in the workforce working together for the first time in history, each with different preferences and expectations … and it’s causing conflict.” This theme was settled on for a number of years as a key focus of conversation.

Over the past few years, much attention has been focused on the challenges of the millennial workforce and on the clash that exists between the millennials and the baby boomers. What has become of Gen X? Who are they? Why are we not talking about them?

Generation X currently ranges from about ages 39 to 51, and is about 46 million strong (in contrast to 80 million baby boomers and 65 million millennials). Referred to as the lost generation or the forgotten generation, it is in the best interest of organizations to start paying attention. These are the people best poised to assume the senior-level leadership roles being vacated by retiring baby boomers.

Let’s take a look at who these people are:

  • The first latch-key kids.
  • Managed themselves while their parents worked.
  • Less formal than baby boomers.
  • The first generation to actively seek feedback.
  • Sought balance at work. Bartered for it.
  • Work to live (in contrast to baby boomers’ penchant for “live to work”)
  • Populate key middle management positions.
  • In line for higher levels of leadership.
  • Primarily prone to low levels of drama.
  • Tend to be self-starters.
  • The first generation to seek feedback on the job, but not necessarily instantly.
  • Rarely talked about in the media.
  • Hardworking, future-oriented.
  • Experienced fallouts in job, housing and stock markets.

STR-shutterstock_258103058-2How has this generation become lost? How did we forget about them? And to be clear, they are not forgotten as individuals within organizations. People are people, right? They’ve been forgotten as a talked-about generation. They are bookended by two larger and more drama-prone, noisy generations. They are admittedly less distinct than boomers and their children, the millennials.

We know that the savviest of organizations will be proactive when it comes to providing formal onboarding programs, employee development, and channels of communication for their millennials.

But wait! Despite all of the talk about developing millennials sooner rather than later, they’re likely not going to be ready any time soon to succeed the more than 1,000 baby boomers exiting organizations each day, many of them in senior-level positions.

Generation X, however, is primed to take over. The oldest members of Generation X are in their early 50s and are readying to take on executive roles in organizations.

But, they’re not all ready. As we look around our client organizations, we see many senior-level teams heavily represented by individuals in their 50s and 60s. And succession is a problem. We’ve had too many business owners say to us, “We should have started preparing for this time about 10 years ago. We are not ready for these people to retire, because we do not have anyone ready to succeed them.”

So, what are organizations to do to leverage the experience of Generation X?

  1. Assess your middle management group.
  2. Identify high potential candidates to succeed exiting senior-level leaders.
  3. Talk with these leaders about their goals, preferences and interest in taking on a bigger role.
  4. Be clear about both capabilities and character traits that you are looking for in leaders who represent your organization at this senior level. Do not turn a blind eye to concerns, particularly related to interactions with and treatment of people.
  5. It will be a good idea to utilize a 360-degree feedback process to gather opinions about your intended successors.
  6. Consider the value of leadership development. It is not uncommon for key players at middle and senior levels to be at this stage of their career without ever having participated in a comprehensive leadership development process.
  7. Consider the potential role of a coach to support the transition into a new role with broader responsibility.

Aleta Norris is a co-founding partner of Brookfield-based Living As A Leader, a leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. You may send her your “Leading Generation Y” questions at anorris@livingasaleader.com. To read all of her columns, visit the knowledge portal at www.livingasaleader.com.

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Aleta Norris is a partner and co-founder of Living As A Leader, a national leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. Living As A Leader supports the development of leaders in more than 125 organizations across the country. For several years, Aleta has been researching and speaking about the critical responsibilities organizations and leaders share related to the attraction, retention and engagement of the emerging workforce.

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