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Leading from the Middle

I know I am not alone when I think, “Doesn’t every generation feel sandwiched in the middle?” Not being a scholar on the subject but aspiring to be generationally-empathetic, I’ll just say, “Yeah, probably.” So is there anything that makes GenX “special” (with ironic quotes)?  From a demographic perspective, the answer is a firm, “Yes.” We are a thin slice of olive loaf in a Texas toast sandwich between the Boomers and GenY.  So…yes.  We are sandwiched in the middle of these demographically fat generations. While thin, we are complex, representing the lips-and-assholes sensibility of baloney and the Mediterranean “je ne sais quoi” of olives and pimentos.

I agree. That analogy is over the top. Don’t let it stop you.

The pain of being sandwiched in the middle—regardless the thickness of the bread or the moniker of generations—is that feeling of wanting to do something meaningful…something that makes sense to you and the folks that you identify with. This is the pain of every generation. How do you create change? The pain for GenX is that we are demographically small and relatively underrepresented in organizations. So that… to be honest…sucks. For GenXers in small non-profits it often becomes a question of how do you create change in which sometimes only you believe?

Do not despair. Despite the thinness of our olive loaf (i.e., generation), we demographically represent a numerically and financially important demographic for fundraising and earned income for museums. I know. Retch retch. Puke puke. Gag me with a spoon. “I am more than fundraising and earned income!”

You’re right. Every generation represents the link to which it is sandwiched between. You know how the venerable Fresh Prince once said, “Parents just don’t understand?” I strongly believe that GenX is the generational bridge between the demographically dominant Boomer parents and their kooky, creative and demographically boomin’ kids in GenY.

This idea isn’t popular amongst GenXers. We are doggedly “more than that!” Don’t get me wrong. I am with you brothers and sisters. I too am personally more than a bridge between two demographically dominant generations. We have apeloads of assets (and baggage) associated with the cultural milieu of our times that make our generation good leaders and managers. That said, from an organizational perspective we have some very tangible “intergenerational” perspectives that allow us to bridge our sandwiching demographic giants. Capitalize on all those unique assets. Lead from the middle as a generation and an individual. Smart organizations will (eventually) recognize the long-term benefits you represent to the mission.

About Michael Wall

Something something witty...something something jaded...

8 responses to “Leading from the Middle

  1. Rusty ⋅

    I love the sandwich thing, but shit, I love sandwiches. I agree about the bridge thing. Yet I don’t see us as a powerful force for financial development for organizations, at least not as a source anyway. We are too small a slice, and many of us are broke as a joke. We are, however, pretty good at asking for money and getting it. We’ve done it all our lives.

    • Michael Wall ⋅

      True that. I guess it depends on your institution and audience. In my homeplace, we really focus on families. I find Boomers to be out of touch with GenX parenting needs and the Ys are just barely bearing children for now. So yeah, we are thin but the only game in town. Likewise, from a development perspective you got to keep that pipeline full. Our generational skinniness makes the competition for our donative dollars all the more intense. And despite how poor GenX is in the non-profit world, I see my classmates on Facebook living pretty large. But I am an admitted Pollyanna. Thanks for the comment Rusty. Cheers!

  2. Rusty ⋅

    Your post and comment both have an understated depth to them I appreciate like poetry’s economic application of language. Our needs as parents and how that intersects with the Boomers and Gen Y is right up front as a true quality of our generation. We work hard in this department. Family programs are precisely what museums have to offer my family. I, too, have some friends who claim to be living large, but you have to wonder how much of that is real and how much of it is tied to debt, support from parents, or just pure dumb luck. Or Facebook, not exactly the judge and jury of success. The grass is always greener. I feel lucky to have what I do – a family, a couple of cool toys that really aren’t big cash gobblers, and a job. I’ve gotten so used to being poor, I’m not sure I can imagine anything else. And cursed with brains, I wonder, “How am I not a millionaire?” How’s that for some jaded shit?

  3. I’ve never liked olive loaf. Now I know why! There is an intense desire in our generation to do something, make something, be something but it’s so easy to get lost in the crowd. Fortunately, we’ve always been good at making noise, so it’s time to get noticed.

    • Michael Wall ⋅

      Adrianne, Yep. See my reply to JenniferVH below. I think our inherent ability to make noise and not give a crap makes us inherently able to lead from the middle.

  4. JenniferVH ⋅

    I would agree with the idea of the bridging the gap. After the session at AAM (and stop me if you heard this already) a GenYer found me at the museum expo and said that we, GenX were important, because we paved the way and made things easier for GenY on the job. Pretty smart GenYer and I should have gotten his contact info. We are bridging something. One thing I think of is that many of us are digital immigrants. Boomers are too, but Boomers are the immigrants that don’t give up their own language. They let us, the ones that are assimilating and understanding both the digital and the non-digital. We are the translators between the lost Boomers and the digital natives, starting with GenY. I just wonder what it will be when my kids are in their 20s. What is post-digital?

    • Michael Wall ⋅

      I hope folks get the double meaning here of leading from the middle. My post sort of focuses on the intergenerational middle, but there is a great deal of power in “leading from the middle” from an organizational leadership perspective. There is good management literature on the subject. I find it a very liberating philosophy, that I think particularly speaks to our generation. Kind of a, “The man got you down? Screw him I don’t need to be ‘in charge’ to create change,” philosophy. JenniferVH, I couldn’t agree more. Our digital bridging is one of our assests associated with the “cultural milieu of our times .”

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