The current workforce is largely comprised of three generations: baby boomers, Gen X'ers, and millennials. The boomers are retirement-ready and the millennials are just getting warmed up. Gen X'ers -- my own beloved generation -- are stuck in the middle. And we're vulnerable -- and not in the sweet, Brené Brown kind of way. We're the most at-risk for being passed over for team and thought leadership roles by our younger, more agile colleagues. We'll be unable to move up in our careers unless we start shifting some of our old mindsets -- and fast.
Gen X'ers are the least studied and least frequently talked about generation. Unlike boomers, we don't command respect and attention, and unlike millennials, we don't demand it. We're saddled with outdated beliefs about hierarchy, structure, and "the way we do things around here." We lack a natural comfort with technology, and chase notions of a stability that no longer exists. Today, many of us manage or lead teams of millennials. We got to these senior positions by playing the boomers' game. But we'll be shutout of future growth by rising millennials who are actively changing the rules.
Why are Gen X'ers at particular risk? Because we have a decade or more before retirement, and we don't have the skills and attitudes we need to compete until then. We're about to be lapped.
However, with an important mindset shift, we can save our careers and a lot of frustration. If you're not ready to give up, here are X notions to kick to the curb.
Believing that what got you here will get you there. Most of us Gen X'ers don't really have a specific strategy for growing our careers. If we did, it'd be something like: Do good work and wait to be noticed. Because this was the boomers' prescribed approach and we worked in hierarchical organizations, it worked. The boomers aren't calling the shots anymore and our hierarchies are being disassembled. In a flatter, more fluid organization, you have to figure out what work you do well and find (or create) your own opportunities to do it. And we can't wait around to be noticed anymore -- we don't have time for that. When you want to make something happen in your organization, it's up to you to propose it.
Clinging to the notion of "time in grade." Time in grade refers to time spent at a certain pay grade or level within the organization. When Gen X'ers complain about entitled millennials, often what they're talking about is a disconnect about this one core belief. Older generations believe putting in the years is essential to gaining the experience and perspective needed to lead. However, they obviously believe this because it puts them at an advantage. Millennials don't believe that time invested alone makes one qualified -- they believe in hustle and finding new ways to do things. So, we fight about it. Today, the willingness to learn and take responsibility trumps "time in grade." And if you're focused on putting our best talent forward in business, it should.
Thinking that you don't need to grow your network anymore. Many of our more senior mentors and colleagues are retiring. Their "usefulness" to us is waning. They're off playing golf and traveling. To keep a full, relevant network, you need to be continuously refreshing your connections -- regardless of their age or current position. Today's junior developer is tomorrow's industry leader. Seek out people who "nerd out" about the same things you do, and don't discriminate based on age.
Avoiding emerging communication platforms. (LinkedIn doesn't count. Sorry.) If you're still making lame jokes about how silly Twitter and Snapchat are (without ever using them), you will be passed by. You don't have to actively join these online communities, but you need to know what they are, how they work, and where "your people" hang out. You then need to be selective about joining (or not) the conversations that matter most to your colleagues and customers.
Dismissing the existence of racial biases in your organization or industry. We all have unconscious biases. They're unconscious because they're a set of attitudes and beliefs that live beneath the surface. Few people consciously believe they're racists, and most of us condemn visible, outward violence and discrimination. However, you're missing an important piece of the puzzle if you don't shine the light inward to explore ways your own below-the-surface biases impact your decisions in business. It's an important thing to do for everyone, but it becomes especially important when you're hiring, building teams, and mentoring.
You can actively take steps today to increase your future career and leadership opportunities. Failing to take action and change with the times will limit your professional future. Our younger colleagues are redefining what's needed to be successful, and we have to pay attention -- or risk becoming obsolete.
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