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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Optional leadership

Some 90% of the world’s top firms are led by Boomers or older. Sure, it’s fine to acknowledge that the age of the working population is expanding and that older workers are staying in the workforce longer. But at some time, these leaders need to make room for the next generation of leadership: Generation X.

According to generational expert Tammy Erickson, who recently presented a Harvard Business Review webinar on “The Leaders We Need Now: Are We Ready for Gen X to Take Charge?”, Gen X will lead by exploring option after option. This new band of leaders, who are currently aged 31-49 years old, hold valuable, contemporary traits and perspectives that will alter how leaders drive organizations forward.

Erickson believes that Gen X leaders have a sense of alienation and a preference for the alternative. They are inclined to innovate and look for different ways to advance objectives. As leaders, Gen X will explore options to solutions more freely, which could be a point of contention for those of other generations who prefer sticking to an agreed upon and fixed path.

Instead, Gen X leaders hold strong survival skills and can handle change with resilience. Remember, these are the people who, as kids, saw their parents experience widespread layoffs for the first time, rising divorce rates, falling standards of adult behavior such as Watergate, and removal of political barriers such the destruction of the Berlin Wall.

As leaders, we can expect Gen X to be fiercely independent. They will meet their commitments. They will take their own employability very seriously. They will be ready with a well-nurtured portfolio of options and networks. And they will be practical, incisive and hold value-oriented sensibilities.

But the greatest difference in their leadership style will be the continued pursuit of options: optional career paths, lifestyles and business solutions. How will the rest of the workforce fare with such option-based leadership?

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