According to the Harvard Business blog (discovered via the LLN Leader’s Digest), Gen Xers are the “leaders we need today and tomorrow” because of our accelerated contact with the real world, our distrust of institutions, our looking outward, our acceptance of diversity, our rich humor and incisive perspective, our work-life balance, and our pragmatism. Obviously I’m a Gen Xer myself, and these traits might apply to me. You won’t find anyone who distrusts institutions more than I, except maybe anarchists, and I look outward and accept diversity and all that. My humor is also incredibly rich, and my perspective so incisive some people find it painful. And I was a pragmatic, resilient latch-key child back before that was all the rage. “Contending with a world of finite limits, no easy answers, and the sobering realization that we are facing significant, seemingly intractable problems on multiple fronts”? That’s the sort of thing I do two or three times a day before breakfast.
The description sounds like a more positive spin of the same traits I’ve been hearing about Gen Xers for years. Did my latchkey childhood make me resilient and hardworking? Or did it make me distrustful of figures who claimed authority but never could do anything to benefit me in any way? Did the self-reliant independence just make me comfortable with innovation and technology? Or did it also mean I don’t really need much from others, or that I’m uncomfortable with people who don’t adapt as quickly as I do? And that work-life balance thing, does it mean that I want to be a good parent, or that I’m not going to work myself to death for an institution, and thus am some sort of slacker? Does my rich humor and incisive perspective isolate practical truths, redefine issues, and question reality, or does it mean that I’m really good at mocking incompetence and muddled thinking and have no tolerance for humorless stupidity?
In short, do the traits listed in this article mean that Gen Xers would make the “leaders we need,” or does it mean that they’re distrustful of people who claim to be leaders and don’t need much “leadership” themselves? After all, if I’m resilient, hard-working, resourceful, self-reliant, independent, innovative, incisive, humorous, adaptable, then how likely is it that I need leaders for much? And how likely is it that I would want to lead anyone who wasn’t as independent, self-reliant, innovative, incisive, hard-working, resilient, and resourceful as I am? If we’re going to make generational generalizations (which I really don’t like to do), why wouldn’t I tell my boomer elders they just need to suck it up and deal with a rapidly changing world, or my millennial colleagues that I’m too busy being innovative and self-reliant to give them the constant reassurance and feedback the media claims they need to succeed?
Alas, I fear that this generational generalization may be lacking. I’ve known plenty of Gen Xers who are helpless, dependent, authoritarian, timorous, dogmatic, humorless, or some combination of those traits. Maybe those Gen Xers weren’t latchkey children, though. Or maybe this is all spot on, and I’m just being too skeptical and incisive, and thus just the leader you need for today and tomorrow.