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Five Generation X Leadership Traits

By Linda Favero

As Baby Boomers (1946-1964) retire and Generation X (1965-1980) move into more leadership roles, how will their historical markers impact their management style? 

When older Gen X (me included) entered the workforce we were led by Traditionalists (1928-1945) and Boomers who believed in long hours and face to face communication. In the early 80s and 90s’ recessions we saw our parents being laid off after committing decades of hard work and commitment to their companies. Further, many of our moms were new to the workforce, and we were latch-key children becoming very independent. This led us to skeptically view work and many decided to take a different approach. 

For Gen X, these markers and experiences shaped how we chose to lead our workplaces in the future. Along with other generational researchers, I noticed five trends in Gen X’s leadership styles. Let’s take a closer look at these approaches that Gen Xers might consider when leading organizations.

Mentoring

Gen X understand employees want more out of work than just a paycheck and strive to make the culture attractive to employees of all generations. They are more likely to come alongside an employee to mentor and coach them, and give frequent feedback instead of an annual employee evaluation with limited communication in between. As Millennials (1981-1996) desire both personal and professional development, Gen X is well positioned to nurture their skills and growth.

Communicating

Most employees desire constant communication and an open-door policy. Gen X found themselves mediating many conversations between Boomers, younger Gen Xers and Millennials – a challenging role indeed. Yet, this role makes them uniquely able to bridge misunderstandings among the generations within their organizations. In addition, they saw how hiding information or a lack of transparency in companies like Enron led to distrust, and they want to be more transparent as a leader internally and externally.

Adapting

As the pioneers in the area of work-life balance, they prioritize flexibility within their organizations. They don’t want to work as hard as their parents did, because they saw how much they missed out on their personal lives. As my research found, Gen X leaders see the importance of focusing more on the end product than the process, limiting the need for constant face time. With full lives of their own, they know their employees do as well and choose to respond adaptively.

Collaborating

Gen X and Millennials participated in team sports, and simultaneously higher education moved toward teaching more in teams knowing that many organizations seek employees who can work collaboratively. Further, they were raised by Boomer parents who treated them more as a friend than an authoritative figure. Given these historical markers, Gen X is uniquely suited to collaborating with their employees, asking for input and flattening the organization.

Connecting

Healthy relationships are the core of our highly functional workplaces, and Gen X leaders understand the importance of connecting with employees on an emotional level. In addition, employees need to connect their personal values to the values of the organization, and leaders need to clearly articulate how an employee’s work connects to the mission. Leaders with strong emotional intelligence and an ability to be transparent and vulnerable leads to a better-connected workplace.

While it may be challenging to utilize all five approaches when leading, because of their experiences Gen X leaders are uniquely positioned to find success with one or more of the approaches described above. Which one is your strength and how can you use it to lead effectively? Which one do you want to develop and why is that important?

Interested in learning more? Contact Linda Favero to strategize ways to better lead with your generational strengths. 

Favero, L. W. and Heath, R. G. (2012). Generational perspectives in the workplace: interpreting the discourses that constitute women’s struggle to balance work and life. Journal of Business Communication,49(4) 332-356

Fry, R. (2018, March 1). Millennials projected to overtake baby boomers as America’s largest generation. Retrieved from Pew Center: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/01/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers/