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.

What age is it anyway?

Do you read Penelope Trunk’s blog? I do. I don’t always agree with everything she says, but I love her brutal honesty with respect to both her professional and personal life. Her latest post talks about movements through history – the industrial age, the space age, etc., and how the current generation often doesn’t acknowledge the prevailing age of the time. She argues that we aren’t in the information age right now as is often discussed, but rather we are in an age of personal responsibility, since we find ourselves taking charge of our own health, retirement, career, and the education of our children. Taking charge is something Gen Xers excel at. I don’t know about you, but I am often frustrated when I have to leave something in the hands of others… It’s not that I think I’m going to do it better than them (well, in the spirit of brutal honestly, it often IS that), but it just feels good to be in control. I think this is why we find ourselves wearing lots of hats in the workplace (as discussed at length in the AAM session). We spot the areas at work that are crying out for someone to take charge, and we immediately leap in.

How do you think we will describe this era in years to come? Game developer Ed Fries argues that we are living in the game age, which I can definitely see, too. Any other thoughts?