Dumb as a Post: Generation X and Our Responsibility to Lead

Leadership Generation X

Since embracing the writing thing I've become very disciplined with my schedule. But there are times when something has to be written and it won't wait. Which means it doesn't go through the usual editing process where I take out some of my stronger opinions.

I didn't interpret the phrase 'as dumb as a post' as being stupid. Perhaps it was because I grew up on a farm where I dug a lot of holes for a lot of posts. A fence line is an artefact of purpose.

I used to think the phrase was about not being able to speak.So this is about what a post would say if it had a voice, because something is bursting to be said.

On Monday I attended the first day of the OS/OS conference in Wellington. It's about what happens when open source meets open government.

Yesterday I taught my strategic thinking for government class. The OS/OS experience gave me a lens on my class experience that, I think, has broken something in my (somewhat) inflexible world view.

It wasn't the subject matter that broke me. It was seeing 300 or so millennials engaging with a much smaller group of my tribe, Gen X. And I felt a sense of responsibility I'd not previously encountered.

I write about the profession of management and the twin ideas of responsibility and control. I'm an historian and have been looking at the progression of ideas in the profession of management.

I've been tracking the rise and (abject) fall of neo-liberalism, the discrediting of the consultant and the collapse of mass-production era management techniques.

I've been looking at what happened to the ideas and values of business when the Boomers took the torch from the Greatest Generation. I've been looking at what Millennials expect from the world of work and tracking the parallel evolution in social technology.

Constance Patterson PhD made a literature review in 2005 for the American Psychological Association of the ethics and values we associate with the living generations. People don't change much in historical time, but there are certainly generational differences as each affects the other.

Patterson on the broad brush characterisation of our generations:

The Greatest Generation are practical; patient, loyal and hardworking; respectful of authority; and rule followers.

Boomers are optimistic; team-workers and cooperative; ambitious; and workaholics.

Gen Xers are sceptical; self-reliant; risk takers; and balance work with personal life.

Millennials are hopeful; seek meaningful work; value diversity and change; and are technologically savvy.

The thing that broke in me was a hitherto unquestioned article of faith that it was my generation, Gen X, that were best placed to act as guardians of the profession of management until the Millennials took the torch.

For the first time I got a sense that my generation, Gen X, has found themselves in positions of authority and that, like everyone reaching positions of authority, may be working to our lesser qualities rather than our better ones.

My sense is that my generation, Gen X, must make a conscious effort not to be doubting, cynical or selfish.

The internet is full of our articles about leadership. But none of them matters one jot if we can't act responsibly when it comes to the search for meaning that drives those who have come after us.

If you're a Gen Xer (born roughly between 1961 and 1981) and haven't built a professional relationship with a Millennial, you need to fix that now.

(Note: I did edit this. As professionals we set our own standards. Spelling millennial with one 'n' kind of defeated the purpose of what I was trying to say. Or perhaps proved my point).