Future Law

Don’t Forget About Gen X Leaders

Gen X LeadersCanada’s new prime minister has a certain distinction (other than being the son of Canada’s former prime minister). Justin Trudeau is the first Gen X prime minister in Canada’s history.

His appointed cabinet is the most diverse cabinet in Canada’s history, jam-packed with even more men and women born between 1965 and 1979, Generation X.

So does this mean that Gen X leaders have finally arrived? Maybe. But maybe not.

The Forgotten Generation

There’s a great song in a great movie. The movie is The Breakfast Club and the song of course is Don’t You (Forget About Me). The song typifies a common feeling from Generation X – the forgotten generation. For a brief moment in time, Gen X was the “It” generation. However with marketing and news focused on the clash between two very large and different generations, Millennials and their parents, the Baby Boomers, there is a sense that Gen X has to wave their hands in the air and say, “Hey, we’re still here. Don’t forget about us.”

Here’s an interesting statistic. After analyzing 17,776 earnings call transcripts, CNBC found that companies mentioned Millennials 602 times, Boomers 180 times, and Gen Z, minors, most of whom don’t even earn any money, 100 times. And Gen X, those 35-50 year-olds? They were mentioned all of 16 times.

The Independent Generation

Of course, Gen X is used to this. Gen Xers are often known as latch-key kids. Many came home from school to empty houses because both of their parents worked, or their parents were divorced and they had a single working mother. So they carried their house key with them around their necks.

Gen X’s parents had a 1 in 2 divorce rate. And that coincided with their living in some fairly tumultuous times. Growing up in the 70s, early 80s, they dealt with the end of Vietnam, the Iran Hostage crisis, three very different presidents in Ford, Carter and Reagan, the start of the AIDS epidemic, and the very beginning of our current technological revolution.

Because of these, and many other reasons, Gen X tends to get the loner classification. In their younger days, they were known as rebels, outcasts, cynics, and skeptics. Gen X didn’t trust the system. They weren’t friends with the system. Instead, they rebelled against it.

The Next Generation

Now mainly in their late 30s to late 40s, this generation is in management positions at their legal organizations. Many have been practicing for over ten years. In companies, they are the junior executives. In non-profits, they may be the junior or senior management. In law firms, they are younger partners, bringing in clients to the firm and getting placed in charge of some longer-term clients of older Boomer lawyers. In all organizations, they are expecting to move into the more senior leadership roles shortly if they have not already.

However, two generational trends are opposing them. First, the Boomers who are retiring later than they traditionally would. Second, the Millennials who are looking for senior management positions from Day 1. As one Gen X researcher stated:

There’s sort of disgruntled acquiescence that we’re never going to win against the baby boomers, who control the resources … The appetite just doesn’t seem to be there for much of a Generation X imprint on the workplace before the Millennials take over. There’s a feeling [Gen X] won’t be there that long — kind of like Prince Charles who’s just in the way between Queen Elizabeth and Prince William.

The Leading Generation

Gen X. The Prince Charles of your workplace. Now Prince Charles has two choices. He can either inherit the throne, or he can abdicate. You want Gen X to inherit the throne. Consistent abdication is detrimental to the long-term survival of any organization. Institutional knowledge lies within this generation of men and women who have more professional experience than the 25-year-old who just walked in the door. Why are you as a leader spending more resources on keeping that 25-year-old engaged, and less on advancing the 40-year-old in your organization?

Gen X is the loner generation. And that’s a good thing. They don’t require constant feedback like Millennials might. They understand your company and the climate in which it works far more than your newest hire. What they need is the guidance, mentoring and sponsorship that many legal organizations are offering their Millennials right now. They need to know that even though Boomers are delaying retirement, there is a clear path to leadership that Gen Xers can take.

So while we spend our time and resources on the Millennials entering and the Boomers leaving, let’s take a moment to remember the generation that will be in charge next. Remember Gen X leaders. The generation of loners, outcasts and misfits has become the generation of entrepreneurs, visionaries, and change-makers. They’re gearing up to run our world. Don’t forget about them.


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