If you are a Gen Xer or millennial, now is your time.
For the last 35 to 40 years, baby boomers have been the largest population and the largest workforce. That has now changed. Millennials have replaced boomers as the largest workforce because more than half of boomers have officially retired. The Gen X population is smaller, but still very significant. This means Gen Xers and millennials now have clout in the workplace, and lots of it.
This is a great opportunity for Gen Xers and millennials who want to be leaders.
Gen Xers and millennials naturally share certain workplace values. They are often good collaborators, enjoy flattery and friendly workspaces, are creative and strive for greater work-life balance. Boomers, on the other hand, have preferred structured, hierarchical workspaces. One of the clearest examples of this shift is the increasing desire for flexible workspaces by both employees and progressive employers.
So, how can Gen Xers and millennials become great leaders? First, don't lose what is best about you. Second, embrace what is best about the boomer population because there is great value there.
You have experienced the boomers' model of leadership, and you know what you like and don't like about it.
What does this mean for Gen Xers?
For all you Gen Xers, you are in a unique position to guide workspaces from one leadership model to the other, especially in very large organizations that tend to change slowly. Why? Because you have experienced the boomers' model of leadership, and you know what you like and don't like about it. You also have experience and institutional knowledge. You can be the inspirational and trusted leaders that millennials (and eventually Gen Zs), will want to follow.
As a leader, share the wisdom you have acquired with co-workers. Strategy is still critically important, but now also focus clearly communicating organizational vision and values. Then, inspire your team to exceed personal and professional goals. Act as a mentor — not a "boss" — to help the organization and each team member achieve their greatest potential.
What does this mean for millennials?
You now have experience you can fall back on, as well as education. In addition, the rest of us are learning you are not as lazy as the critics initially thought. You are hard working as long as you know why the work is important to you, to the organization, to the customers and to the environment. You also want to know you and your work are respected and valued. As tomorrow's leaders, it will be natural for you to motivate people by sharing opportunities to learn, respect and value — although my recommendation is to find a mentor or a coach to help you along the way.
As a leader you are creative, collaborative and have a worldview about things like diversity, cultural differences and social issues. Keep promoting these qualities. They are very important as organizations grow to meet the increasing demands of clients who want timely, relevant, easy to use and socially responsible products and services.
One last big benefit of you being a leader is that you have grown up in constant change. For you, change is an exciting chance to learn and take advantage of new ideas and opportunities. Never lose this perspective, because change is now the best way for organizations to stabilize existing market share and attract new audiences.
What can Gen Xers and millennials do now to prepare for tomorrow?
My advice for every Gen Xer and millennial is to take every opportunity to learn and practice effective leadership techniques, including hiring skills and different types of motivation (intrinsic versus extrinsic). This includes how to communicate clearly and with confidence. And, as I suggested above, find a mentor or a coach to help you along the way.
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Tomorrow's leader can no longer be the "all-knowing boss" of the boomer era. You will need to rely on the expertise and specialization of others to fulfill the corporate strategy. The best leader moving forward will be the one who people see as being honest, open, trustworthy, resilient and who can inspire. That leader will be strategic and will motivate their team to work hard, produce quality and enjoy work/life balance doing what they love.
Happy communicating, mentoring, leading and learning.
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