By Karyn Chylewski
As far as age and impact go, for us Gen-Xers, some may say we are past our so-called prime, that we are on the verge of being dismissed, becoming irrelevant, and have had #ourturn. With all the buzz around millennials and their coming of age, as far as they are concerned, it is now #theirtime. Baby boomers . . . well, with all due respect to my parent’s generation, they are definitely at the tail end. While many boomers currently are in very high leadership roles, there are 10,000 new boomers who turn 65 every day.
Gen-Xers, though, are sitting pretty. We have enough life experience that we are well-respected by our BBB’s (Baby-Boomer-Bosses). In fact, they relish that we have been on this earth long enough to be able to go without texting for five minutes, that we remember how to have a face-to-face conversation or even one on the phone, and that we have the patience to spell out btw.
Because of their age and time on this earth, they tend to get frustrated by youth who “have had everything handed to them on a silver platter” (don’t worry, every generation says that one about the next), and they are still wrapping their heads around 9th place ribbons. (No, millennials, that joke will never get old.)
As Gen-Xers, we understand that we are all doomed for some level of crotchetyness one day, so we have enough patience to let our BBB’s vent, brag, and do whatever they like without taking it personally. BBBs love that we know how to write a check and balance a checkbook (not that anyone does either anymore, but we could) and that we know how to write period (the slow death of cursive).
Millennials, the generation right on the cusp of their turn at world domination, outwardly tolerate us, but inwardly love that we are by their side. We are their mentors, coaches, buffers to the BBBs, and confidants to help them maneuver the turbulent times of entering leadership roles in the workplace, and keeping the balanced life that we all want with it.
They value our opinions, look forward to learning from us, and love trading secrets in preparation for them to light their own fire. Human interaction . . . teaching them how to handle conflict, survive difficult client scenarios, deal with peer jealousy, and to eat a little crow when necessary, are the lessons we can pass on to these tech-savvy grasshoppers. And they graciously tolerate a jab here and there, because they secretly crave our advice.
Millennials love shortening the learning curve. They grew up with life hacks and are more than willing to learn from others who have been there done that. As you mentor them, you’ll enjoy seeing their eyes light up when you validate an idea or when they are successful in some way and experience the thrill of a work victory. And they will need you when they get passed on for the promotion, are chewed out by a disgruntled client, or when there just doesn’t seem like there’s a hope left in the world. They will need to know how you survived, and that they will, too.
So while each generation is usually vying for the title of “Coolest/Smartest/Most Value Driven/Purpose Minded/Well Off/Every Other Superlative Generation” right now, I’d say being a Gen-Xer is pretty darn awesome. So how can you embrace this opportunistic time? Easy!
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How to shine brightly while bridging the generation gap
1. Be the connection. Sitting pretty in the middle means you relate to people up and down from you. You can be an incredibly effective go-between the newly arrived millennials and the established BBBs. Break down uncertainty and build camaraderie.
2. Mentor. This is imperative to create longevity of leadership within your company. Plus, there is something exciting about taking someone under your wing. You can have them suffer through stories of “the old days” by weaving in lessons of patience as you describe the anguish of inventories without barcodes. In return, they can teach us what #dubstepping is so the kids think we’re on it.
3. Diversity and inclusion. When you create teams or are working on a project, include not only leaders of departments, but different rungs of the ladder (this allows for inclusion of young and old, of boots on the ground); it promotes thinking and understanding.
4. Partner teach. Successful leaders are amazing at developing key relationships so the machine works successfully. Have your millennials share their expertise, and have BBBs do the same. Both are so knowledgeable within their peer group—you have experts and dreamers in your midst—embrace that. Set up coffee talks with yourself, your mentee, and your BBB. Everyone offers a five to 10 minute insight gift, and all walk away more knowledgeable.
5. Time vs. energy. At this stage of the game, BBBs and Gen-Xers have toiled through and seen a lot. We can sometimes get beat up by life. The younger generation is all gusto, ready to conquer the world! They love goals that stretch them—you will never hear them say it’s too hard because they have no fear and no idea of challenges yet. Let them run with your company’s goals; tap into that energy!
The point is, as we all travel on this spinning rock together, if we can ultimately create a workplace that leverages every generation’s, and our own gifts, to realize it’s okay to embrace strengths, to acknowledge different world views (when you grew up on this earth and what was happening in that time shapes your world view), then you will always find a way to stay relevant through serving one another. Those of us, no matter the generation, that share respect and connect to learn, impact, contribute, love . . . and are living our lives in that way, then our prime time never ends.
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