Five GenX Business Leaders You’ve Never Heard Of (and at least three that you definitely have)

I like Mark Zuckerberg. I really do. He seems like a bright, thoughtful guy, and it’s because of him (and his college buds) that I can know what my retired mom in Florida is thinking about at almost any given moment. But as a GenX-er, I do grow weary of the Millennial/Genius/Entrepreneur narrative.

I get the whole Wunderkind thing that Zuck has going on. And with Millennials poised to be the most entrepreneurial generation in history, it’s easy to focus on the paradigm-shifters of that generation.

But Millennial business leaders aren’t the only ones who are changing the game. Some of today’s most well-known companies are being led by Generation X-ers. These are but a few, in no particular order as innovation is innovation, whether it’s applied to insurance, space travel or shoe selling.

  • Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos: What started as an online shoe store has grown into the gold standard of employee empowerment. Zappos brings the same kind of innovation that earned them the reputation of customer service mastery to their employee relations. Example: every (as in EVERY) new employee spends the first three weeks working in the Zappos call center to understand the business. When that time is up, the employee is offered $3,000 to leave the company.
  • Mary Callahan Erdoes, CEO, J.P. Morgan Asset Management: You don’t have to be a renegade CEO of a hi-tech business to be innovative. Erdoes, CEO of J.P. Morgan Asset Management since 2009, spearheaded several initiatives geared toward helping women in the male-dominated world of finance, including a program that recruits women who once worked in financial services but paused their careers to have children. She was #60 on Forbes’ “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” list in 2016.
  • Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and of Square: One of “the Twitter guys”, Dorsey co-founded Twitter, left in 2008 and came back as CEO in 2015. In between, he launched and continues to run online payment company Square. Dorsey joins Gates, Jobs and Zuck in the pantheon of billionaire tech college dropouts.
  • Sara Blakely, founder, Spanx: With $5,000, Blakely took antiquated undergarments, made them comfortable, called them “shapewear” and created a whole new category in the fashion industry. That kind of GenX ingenuity will get you on Forbes Billionaire list, where Blakely is one of the youngest women.
  • Elon Musk, CEO and Chairman, Tesla: Okay, if you don’t know this guy, I don’t know what to tell you. Electric cars, space exploration, model/actress girlfriends. He’s the rumored inspiration for Tony Stark.
  • David Wehner, Mike Shroepfer, Sheryl Sandberg: Also known as Facebook’s management team (CFO, CTO and COO respectively). I told you I thought Zuck was a bright guy—smart move stocking the C-suite with GenX talent.
  • Spencer Rascoff, CEO, Zillow group: Whether you’ve bought a house recently, tried to find out what your neighbors paid for their house, or you just enjoy perusing the local listings, you probably know the real estate marketplace Zillow, where Rascoff’s been the CEO since 2010. Thanks to their “zestimates”, you can find out what your home is worth at any given second.
  • Tricia Griffith, CEO, Progressive Insurance: If Flo is the only person you know from Progressive, take a closer look. Griffith was the driving force behind the decision to expand into home coverage in 2015. She built her career at Progressive, starting as a claims rep in 1988. She’s now on the list of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women.
  • Larry Page, CEO, Alphabet: You probably know Alphabet better as the parent company of Google, the company that Page co-founded with fellow GenX-er and current Alphabet President Sergey Brin in 1998. Known for his somewhat unorthodox management style, he is credited as the brains behind PageRank, the algorithm that determines search engine results and has marketers like me obsessing over them. And with Google consistently topping “Best Place to Work” lists everywhere, he and Brin are viewed as the standard-bearers for innovative 21-st century corporate culture.
  • Susan Wojcicki, CEO, YouTube: Wojcicki began her career at Google as their first marketing manager in 1999 (Page and Brin were already working out of her garage—sweet commute). Seven years later she convinced them the company should buy YouTube and the rest is television-killing history.

The hallmarks of successful leadership– pragmatism, empathy, loyalty, innovation—are the same characteristics that are attributed to Generation X. In a competitive global business environment where organizations must adapt quickly to market forces that shift beneath their feet, it’s easy to see how GenX leaders are blazing trails.

Readers: this list merely scratches the surface. Got a GenX leader you admire? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Management in Action: Managing Rock Stars

They’re strategic thinkers who can also execute. They’re passionate about their work. They beat every deadline. They have a positive attitude and a commitment to the organization. They are the high performers.

guitar-1015750_640I call them rock stars, and I have been blessed to have managed many throughout my career. Rock stars are talented and make hard work look easy, and I gladly pick the brown M&Ms out of the candy dish in order to keep them performing well. But like actual rock stars, high performers need the right combination of support and autonomy from their leaders to keep them playing at a high level.

Got a high performer on your team? Here are some things to do to keep them rocking out:

  • Keep their instruments tuned. It’s your job as a leader to set your team members up for success. This means doing your best to get your people the tools they need to do their job well. Whether it’s investing in new technology or providing professional development opportunities, do what you can as a manager to get your rock stars what they need to continue to excel.
  • Give them a solo. As I mentioned, I’ve managed a few high performers over the course of my career, and I learned that sometimes the best thing I can do for them is to just stay out of their way. Micromanaging is about the worst thing you can do to a rock star. That being said, it’s not always reasonable for your high performers to expect complete autonomy. Work together to find that balance.
  • Have them write a song for a change. Most high performers are quick learners and pick up things easily. Playing the same songs day after day can get boring, so give your high performers new challenges and opportunities to branch out. Encouraging your rock stars to take the lead on certain projects and initiatives allows them to apply their talents in different ways, which can be reinvigorating for employees and foster higher levels of engagement.
  • Let them know how the album is doing. It can be difficult and de-motivating to work in a vacuum and not know how your day-to-day work is impacting the organization. Take time as a leader to connect those dots for your team by linking individual goals to your organization’s strategic goals, and give your rock stars regular feedback on how things are progressing.
  • Make sure they get their standing ovations. Often, high performers leave organizations because they don’t feel valued. Are you doing all you can to get them proper recognition? In addition to giving your high performers positive feedback and appreciation, make sure the higher-ups of your organizations are aware of your rock star’s hard work and talent. Encourage your high performers to engage with organizational leaders so they can raise their profile.
  • Put the band first. Having a high performer as part of your team can motivate other team members to higher achievement, or it can totally intimidate then. Rock stars tend to get a lot of attention, garner more responsibility, and perhaps enjoy more freedom. Continue to make investments in the rest of your team so that they too can develop the knowledge and skills that can elevate them to rock star status.

Rock star employees can absolutely be assets to your team, but it takes some careful management in order to get the most value. A high level of talent is not an excuse to treat people poorly or behave unprofessionally—something that actual rock stars have something of a reputation for. Good communication is crucial to understanding and creating a working dynamic that benefits you, them, the rest of your team, and the organization.

Rock on.

Readers: have you worked with rock stars? What’s been your experience with high performing employees? Share in the comments.

GenX and EQ

Emotional intelligenceI’ve been working in marketing for nearly 20 years and have been a manager of people for 15 of those. During that time, I’ve done my best to keep tabs on current trends in leadership and management. I freely admit that I’m a sucker for every e-book, webinar and white paper that addresses the topics. The range of usefulness of these resources has varied of course (Yes, I know it’s just a way to get me to fill out a form so a salesperson can contact me. I’m in marketing, remember?). A topic that seems to come up more and more frequently is emotional intelligence, also known as EI or EQ (for Emotional Intelligence Quotient).

In 1995, science journalist Daniel Goleman wrote a bestseller called Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. In it he identified five factors of emotional intelligence:

  • Self awareness: an understanding of strengths and weaknesses, and how actions affect others
  • Self regulation: control of emotions and reactions in situations
  • Internal motivation: a drive to succeed that comes from within
  • Empathy: the ability to understand the emotions of others by putting yourself in their shoes
  • Social skills: the ability to connect with others and manage relationships

My gut reaction to EQ was a GenX eye roll. Please, the cynic in me thought. Why can’t we all just be professionals and do our jobs? Do we have to sing kumbaya too? But it also made me reflect on my own career and leaders I have encountered who had the ability to inspire people to do their best work. They weren’t necessarily hypercompetent, nor did they lead by fear or intimidation, but people wanted to come through for these leaders, no matter what. It occurred to me that the leaders were indeed strong in each of these five areas. They had high EQ.

For some Generation X managers, EQ is probably not something they think too much about, yet they may very well understand its powerful role in leadership. For example, they may know that employees who feel valued are nearly three times more motivated to do their best work. They may take the time to understand specific motivators for their individual team members in order to improve performance. Understanding this requires a measure of emotional intelligence. The good news for GenX managers is: 1) EQ can be developed and improved, and 2) they probably have a better head start than they realize.

Developing and Improving EQ

There are techniques for boosting each of the five areas that comprise emotional intelligence. Most of them begin with some thorough introspection. To develop self-awareness, try to become an out-of-body observer of yourself. What are you doing well? What are you struggling with? How are others reacting to you? Getting answers to those questions can put you on a path to improving self regulation as you become more thoughtful about your actions in different situations. Some deep introspection around what some experts call your “deep why” can also help uncover what truly motivates you.

To strengthen empathy and social skills, put the focus on others. Think about what you can do to put them at ease. Show an interest in people as unique individuals. Be mindful that your team members are whole people and are not solely defined by the work that they do.

EQ and Age

The jury is out on whether EQ improves with age. There are some studies that show a correlation. One study from 1999 even pinpointed that EQ shows a drastic increase during the thirties and seems to peak around age 50.  (Feeling that EQ surge, GenX?) It certainly seems that with age comes experience.  You have more time dealing with others, as well as more opportunities to practice EQ boosting techniques, each of which should influence EQ improvement. But other studies dispute this claim, stating instead that there are aspects of EQ that will only improve through thoughtful practice and training.

One of my favorite examples of the importance of EQ as a leadership quality comes from my own life. Several years ago, my father retired from a long and successful career that included stints at Xerox and later GE. At his retirement party, I can’t tell you how many of his colleagues shared with me their admiration for his caring nature. “He cared so much about people,” one person said to me. “We’d do anything for him.”

The average person will spend over 90,000 hours at work. That’s about one-third of a lifetime. It’s important that employees spend that time feeling valued not just for their productivity and expertise, but also as people.

Readers: what do you think about the importance of EQ and leadership? Have you seen examples of EQ in action? Share your experiences in the comments.

Generation X and the Arts: Meet Generation X-pert Sabra Crockett (Part 2)


Sabra L. Crockett: artist, business owner and totally GenX. Photo by Jolea Brown Anderson, Creative Photography

This week is Part Two of our Generation X-pert conversation with Sabra Crockett, owner of Sabra Lynne Decorative Painting, LLC in Louisville, KY. (You can check out Part One here). Let’s jump right back in.

GenX Manager: You spoke about giving feedback to Millennials and how you have to be mindful of how it might be received. Does it take it up a notch when you are critiquing someone’s art, something that can be so personal?

Sabra Crockett: Excellent point. I know that there are artists from all generations that really take their art so much more personally than I do. And I think it’s because of my background as a scenic artist. My art was never “my art”. It was the designer’s art. It was the director’s art. It was the audience’s art.

So I never had that preciousness with my art, and I have been able to detach myself, to an extent, from my art—and that’s important. I do recall how much more personally Millennials took feedback, and I thought maybe it was just because they were younger. But it also might be because of the encouragement that they had from their parents. “You’re wonderful! What you do is great!”

I never really had that. My parents tried to get me to move away from art, and I put my foot down. I said, “Look I’m going to be an artist. There’s nothing you can do about it. I’m going to school and I’ll figure out a way to make money.” Because they were right to be concerned about that, of course. I know as a parent I’m concerned about that as well too, to a degree.

GXM: There’s that GenX independence. Let me ask you–because I am hearing a lot of GenX influence in your story—what comes to mind for you when you think of Generation X? Did you have an affinity towards that label growing up? Do you have it now?


“We (GenX) were labeled as slackers, negative, cynical…a little anti-establishment.”–Sabra Crockett 

SC: I do. We were labeled as slackers, negative, cynical…a little anti-establishment. But really we were pragmatic. I do have an affinity for Generation X because the people that I grew up with were so damn smart. They were so politically engaged and aware, and they cared. But it wasn’t “hippy dippy” (really we were so anti-hippy dippy). We were all about love and peace too, just with an edge.

We were very passionate about causes. I remember being in PETA at Arcadia College and getting the college to stop experimenting on mice. I remember writing letters to corporations encouraging them to end those inhumane practices. We really wanted to make a difference. We took a responsibility for our actions and our future because nobody else was going to take care of us. We got that message a lot. I felt that we really had to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and take responsibility for our futures.

GXM: What comes up for you as some of the defining moments of Generation X?

SC: I think of Kurt Cobain’s death as a defining moment. Going back, Nirvana and their influence was a defining moment. I remember it was my first year in college and we all gathered around a stereo to listen to Nirvana’s album, Nevermind and we were like, “This is amazing!” Then it instantly became mainstream, so Kurt Cobain’s death hit a generation of fans pretty hard. I think our connection with media in general; the rise of MTV for example, defines GenX.

It’s so different now—the Internet has given us so much information but it seems harder to find people that you truly connect with. I remember as a kid hanging out with friends, going to their homes. And my kids Skype or text friends. They’re hanging out too—just not in person. It’s wild.

GXM: Generation Z—the true digital natives. It’s very interesting to watch this generation come of age. They are remarkably informed, and more engaged than I remember us as teenagers. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

SC: I think they have greater potential to be more informed, than us as teenagers, because of their access to digital media, and the internet. It’s really encouraging. I feel that my son’s generation is definitely more accepting of difference than our generation was. And it’s not nearly as cliquey as when we were growing up. We kind of defined ourselves by our label. I was labeled different by others at first, and didn’t find self-acceptance until I owned the label. I considered myself a ‘freak’ or a ‘punk’ by the type of music I listened to, and the culture I surrounded myself with. It’s what we called, “Alternative”, back in the day. Even if I don’t look like it now, I still consider myself that way. The alternatives took those labels, which were something negative, and built a kind of persona around that, because we weren’t accepted by mainstream society. Now my teenage son will say, “Yeah, I’m a nerd. I’m definitely a nerd.” I’ll say, “Cool. I’m glad that you’re owning that. It’s not a negative thing.” And it’s not! It’s much more accepted to be a nerd in my son’s generation. It’s also more accepted to be gay, bi, trans… My son had a friend come out in front of his classroom in the 7th grade! That was unheard of when we were kids! I’m just so absolutely encouraged by how our children are perceiving the world, and each other.

GXM: It is pretty awesome. Let me ask you this—you’ve been a working artist for nearly two decades. What advice would you give someone just starting out?

SC: I would say if you can find a “Business for Arts” class—take it! In college, they don’t teach you about how to price your work, how to generate a client list to keep in contact with, how to balance your budget or how you do your taxes. These are all things that you need to know, because the thing is, as an artist, you are a business owner. You have to treat your art “career” as a small business. And if you can find a program that can help you market and sell your art, that’s really helpful. Most importantly, if you can find a cause that is bigger than you or your art, and your art feeds into that cause, that is where you will thrive.

It’s important to be organized and to have good planning skills. This is what non-artists may not understand. I don’t go up to a wall and just start painting. There is so much planning and effort involved. I need to have a budget and a timeline. I need to create estimates so I need to understand my fair market value. And that means I have to understand what other artists are creating and selling. I don’t think people understand that you can’t be a flake if you’re going to be a successful artist. I am so appreciative of what I do, but it’s not the fun that people think it is.

Being professional is also really important. It’s important to be on time (that’s advice for Millennials specifically). If you’re given an opportunity, show that you appreciate it by being on time and being professional. Also, communication is key. For me, I like to know that my interns are engaged in the process. So ask questions, be engaged. And listen. Listen to your clients. Listen to their concerns and desires. Be empathic.

GXM: That’s really good advice. I think you’re correct about the perception that non-artists might have about the rules of engagement. They’re really not that different. It’s work, right? Thank you so much for being our first Generation X-pert.

To check out Sabra Crockett’s work, visit

Are you a Generation X-pert? We’re looking to interview GenX-ers about their career paths, their experience leading employees, and how their specific industry interacts with Boomers, GenX, Millennials and more as part of a series for Email for more information.


Generation X and the Arts: Meet Generation X-pert Sabra Crockett



Sabra L. Crockett: artist, business owner and totally GenX. Photo by Jolea Brown Anderson, Creative Photography

In this first post of our Generation X-pert series, I am pleased to introduce you to Sabra L. Crockett. Currently, Sabra is the owner of Sabra Lynne Decorative Painting, LLC in Louisville, KY, but I remember her as one of the most creative and artistic students of the Class of ’91 at Webster High School. She’s totally GenX, and I had the opportunity to pick her brain about how generations interact in the art world, giving constructive feedback to artistic Millennials and raising Gen Z kids. After spending some time reminiscing about our favorite ’80s music, we got down to business. Part One of our conversation follows, edited for clarity.


GenX Manager: If anyone told me that after high school I would be video conferencing with you about Generation X stuff I’d think, “Hmm..sounds right. ”. So this is great–thank you.

Let me piece together what I know about 2017 Sabra: you are an artist in Louisville, KY and have two sons?

Sabra Crockett: I do. I have two boys; a 15-year-old and an 11-year-old.

GXM: And I have a daughter that just turned 16.

SC: Teenagers!

GXM: I think what blows my mind is I remember our teen years so vividly. And when I try to explain to my daughter what it was like being a teenager in the 80s, it’s the GenX version of ‘we walked 5 miles to school in the snow uphill’ speech: “We didn’t have Hot Topic. We didn’t have Manic Panic. If you wore a band tee it’s because you were at the show and we dyed our hair with Kool-aid.”

SC: My husband kept all his band tees. I’m going to make a quilt.

GXM: And you’re GenX like me, but your parents weren’t Boomers. They were actually a bit older—the Silent Generation. How did that influence you?

SC: Yes, they grew up during the Depression. Everything was saved. Everything was an investment. Nothing was ever thrown away or wasted. You used something until you could not use it anymore. And you worked really hard and earned everything. Nothing was ever given to you freely. There always had to be some form of labor or achievement that you had to create or accomplish.

GXM: That’s really interesting. So when you were growing up, and when you were a young adult, did you feel you were different from your peers in that way?

SC. Yeah absolutely. I know a lot of my friends who just automatically got cars when they were young and were helped out a lot more by their parents. And my parents were like, “Nope”. But that sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency that I was able to have really helped me as an artist and as a self-employed person. On the other hand…it can be a hindrance in a way because I am so independent and autonomous, it can sometimes be hard to work in a group and collaborate. And I do find that working with Millennials, they really want to collaborate. But I’m like ‘OK give me a task, let me go do it now and do it right’.

GXM: So very GenX.

Let’s talk about your career—I know you are working in the arts, which is fantastic and totally what I would have expected from one of Webster High School’s Class of ’91 ‘Most Artistic’. What was your path?

SC: After high school, I really wanted to go to school at the Art Institute of Chicago. And I was accepted and I really thought I was going to go and my parents said, “We can’t afford it.” So I had to figure out where I was going to go to school in like, a week. So I went to what was then Beaver College (now Arcadia College) in Pennsylvania to study Fine Arts, but I was only there for one year. Loved Philly, but I came back home and got my Bachelor’s from RIT. Graduating early, I was ready to give up, get a “regular” job and make some money and not do art. Then I got a call from the RIT placement office about a position for a Scenic Artist at a local theater. I said, “What’s a Scenic Artist?” and they said, “We don’t know, go find out”. So I applied and I got the job. That was amazing because that was a time where I was able to use my artistic ability to actually have a job and make money.

I was there for a year. Then I moved down to Montgomery, Alabama to be a Scenic Artist at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. And that was an absolutely incredible experience. I knew nobody in Montgomery. I moved there by myself with my little kitten and my Toyota Corolla full of stuff, but no furniture.

I got there and it was amazing. There were props artisans from all over the country, really talented costume designers. I got to meet August Wilson. It was an incredible experience. Then my husband, who is also from Rochester, got a job in Montgomery and we were there for six years. And I was getting to a point with theatre where I felt like I hit a plateau and couldn’t learn a lot more. And while I was working in the theater on the weekends, I had my own little side business doing murals and faux finishes for restaurants and private homes as well as working with an antique dealer.

So when I had my son–I think it was our first year anniversary–I said ‘I think I’m going to start my own business. I think I’m going to go out and do that because I kind of need more flexibility’. And I couldn’t do theater and a side job and take care of my child. So I decided to go out on my own. And it was terrifying. But I was able to do it for a while and then we moved to Louisville, KY.

I was really lucky–I got in with the top designers. And the thing with Louisville is they love new people. It’s a very interesting city to live in. I have lived here for 14 years now and it is a culturally emerging city.

GXM: That’s my understanding too—it’s something of a hot spot right now.

SC: It’s an incredible city, and there is a lot of support for the arts. All types too– performing arts, visual arts. I’ve established great relationships and made lots of friends. I have found a home in Louisville.

GXM: What has been your experience with working with other generations in the art world—Millennials in particular? You mentioned internship programs you were involved with.

SC: Yes, I started an internship program with a local college here and worked with interns throughout my career as a scenic artist. Giving feedback has been interesting—both as a Northerner and as a GenX-er.

GXM: You’ve got kind of a brutal honesty double whammy there.

SC: Right! I had to really figure out what the Millennial value systems were and what worked well for them. And what I’ve noticed is they need a lot of encouragement, a lot of positive feedback. So if I softened my approach, I questioned if my feedback was going to be effective or taken seriously. With Millennials, I’ve had to be very patient, very encouraging, and above all—be a really good listener. I find that being a really good listener helps in all aspects of dealing with any generation. And communication is absolutely key.

I have noticed that Millennials like to text more, and I have no problem with that. I like that. In my role as gallery director for a nonprofit organization, I deal with all kinds of generations. I was working with a gentleman from the Greatest Generation who was very clear: “I don’t do email. You can either call me or you can write me a letter.” The Boomers I deal with seem to like email more.

GXM: What kind of generational issues have you observed in the art world, and as an artist yourself? Are there keen differences?

SC: Boomers seem to equate art with status. For a lot of Boomers working to establish themselves, having a big house and a fancy car, was very important. And most of my clients that I work with in private homes–doing murals and finishes—tend to be from that generation. So for them, it’s a status symbol—a beautiful work of art they can show off to friends.

Millennials, not so much. For them, I think it’s more about individuality. And I can appreciate that as a GenX-er, because we value our individuality as well.

Tune in next week for Part 2 of my conversation with Sabra and get her take on GenX’s defining moments, what it’s like to be a GenX artist, business owner and mother, and what advice she has for people who want to have a career in art. Catch the exciting conclusion right here!

Two for one: Matching Millennial Workers with GenX Mentors

An earlier post on mentioned mentoring as a way to further engage Generation X employees. For organizations looking to cultivate a leadership mindset in mid-level GenX managers—and pass on valuable skills to younger and newer employees—pairing Millennial employees with GenX mentors is a way to accomplish both in one fell swoop.

Piece of cake, right? Not so fast. Though GenX and Millennials may be generation-adjacent, they are in fact very different when it comes to their approach to work. But that’s the idea. Pairing GenX mentors with Millennials matches the complementary skill sets of both generations so that each benefits.

What a GenX Mentor Can Teachboard-784349_640

GenX employees have decades of career experience in a corporate culture that has undergone massive transformation in a relatively short amount of time. They’ve seen things. This experience, combined with GenX attributes like pragmatism, loyalty, and independence are strengths that younger generations can benefit from. Here are just a few things Millennial employees can learn from GenX mentors:

  • Pragmatism. One of the traits that GenX-ers are most known for is their ability to realistically accomplish goals. They understand that compromise is often necessary to move things forward, and thus many GenXers seek middle ground willingly in the name of progress. Millennials, who are more idealistic (much like their Boomer parents), may be more hesitant to move toward a goal if conditions don’t seem favorable. GenX mentors can teach their mentees how to analyze existing systems and frameworks, negotiate with stakeholders and get things done.
  • Self Reliance. Often called the least-protected generation, GenX knew early on they’d have to figure out a lot for themselves. This trait has served GenX employees well. They are known for working well independently and seeking to expand their skill sets. For Millennials accustomed to group work and collaboration, they can learn from their GenX mentors how to be more self-starting and confident in their solo work.
  • Workplace culture. For employees in their early careers, getting a sense of organizational culture and politics can be a steep learning curve. A mentor who has a strong sense of culture can guide their mentee and shorten the learning process.

What a GenX Mentor Can Learn

Mentoring is viewed as a strong engagement tool because in an ideal arrangement, everyone benefits. As trust is built on both sides of the mentoring relationship, it can evolve into more of a mutual coaching model. GenX mentors stand to learn a lot from their Millennial mentees, such as:

  • Optimism. Negative and cynical are two terms often associated with Generation X. Yet Millennials—the same generation that’s facing down crushing student loan debt and shaky job prospects– are the most optimistic of the generations and they take that with them into the workplace. They believe in positive change, and that they can have a direct impact on bringing it about.
  • Self-advocacy. Millennials are quite known for their ability to advocate for themselves, and they can show GenX a thing or two in this regard. Studies show that GenX values recognition just as much as other Millennials, but they may not be actively seeking it.
  • Good ideas can come from anyone. Hierarchy is not important to Millennials. (That can be a sword that cuts both ways.) Raised to value collaboration and teamwork, Millennials believe that ideas are equal regardless of the source and that everyone is a major stakeholder.

Each generation has unique strengths and skills. Mentoring can facilitate the sharing of these in a way that rewards all involved, including the organization that supports it.

Readers: Does your organization have a mentoring program? What has been your experience with mentoring in your career? Share in the comments below.

Living on the edge: Xennials and others



When it comes to generations, it’s not always a perfect fit.

As both a language lover and marketing professional, I love when a new made-up word takes hold. Last month, there was huge media coverage of the term “Xennial”–coined to describe those late GenXers/early Millennials whose unique experiences make them feel like they don’t belong in either generation.


The portmanteau originally appeared in a piece by Sarah Standkorb and Jed Oelbaum for GOOD magazine in 2014. The term caught fire again recently when University of Melbourne professor Dan Woodman, in an interview with, explained the concept of this microgeneration:

“The idea is there’s this micro or in-between generation between the Gen X group – who we think of as the depressed flannelette-shirt-wearing, grunge-listening children that came after the Baby Boomers, and the Millennials – who get described as optimistic, tech savvy and maybe a little bit too sure of themselves and too confident.”

The Xennial Experience

A common phrase I hear from a lot of Millennials is, “Yeah, but I’m not really a Millennial…” It’s usually an attempt to distance themselves from negative Millennial stereotypes, but sometimes it is in reference to their Xennial experience which blends characteristics from both GenX and Millennial generations. A Xennial:

  • Was born during the original Star Wars trilogy.
  • Had a computer-free childhood but a tech-connected adolescence.
  • Played more Oregon Trail than PacMan.
  • Watched more “My So Called Life” than music videos on MTV.

The concept behind this is not unique to this sub-segment of those on the Generation X/Millennial cusp. When generations span 15-20 years (depending on who is counting), the shared experiences and defining moments of a generation look really different depending on which end of the spectrum you fall. If you are on the cusp of two generations, you might technically belong to a generation because of your birth year, but attitudinally identify with a different generation altogether. Let’s apply the “Xennial” model to other generations.

Baby Boomers –Generation X = BooXers  

No, I don’t really think “BooXers” is going to catch on. But I have hope, as there happen to be a lot of these folks who are on the cusp of the Baby Boomer generation (1946-64) and Generation X (1965-1980). A BooXer:

  • Was alive for the moon landing but vividly remembers the Challenger disaster.
  • Considers “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” their coming-of-age movie over “The Breakfast Club”.
  • Wasn’t quite sure how old they needed to be to buy beer, as the drinking age was a moving target.
  • Started their gaming experience with pinball and ended it with Atari.

Millennials – Generation Z = GenZennials

It might be harder to predict where the “cuspers” of Millennials (1981-2000) and Generation Z (2001-present) will fall on the spectrum as Generation Z is still coming of age. But even now, we can observe how early GenZ is distinguishing themselves from their Millennial counterparts. In fact, they seem to be more like their GenX parents. A GenZennial:

  • Works on group projects at school but hates every second of it.
  • Is a true digital native, and can process information quicker than Millennials but has a shorter attention span.
  • Watches more YouTube than television.
  • Knows enough about the Millennial student debt crisis to know they want no part of it, even if that means skipping college.

For someone who was born at the midpoint of her generation (1973) and happens to (still) fit every GenX stereotype, this fascinates me. It’s further proof that there is so much more to a generation than a collection of birth years. The defining moments and shared experiences are the things that so strongly influence us.

Three things Boomers can teach GenX and Millennials at work

Decades ago, there were dire warnings about the crisis that would be caused by Baby Boomers retiring en masse. The crisis was averted, thanks in no small part to another crisis called the Great Recession. Today, nearly one-third of Boomers are still working. That’s actually good news for GenX and Millennials. As Baby Boomers continue to exit the workforce, albeit at a slower rate than predicted, younger generations can take advantage of the access they have to these seasoned employees to build on their own skills. Here are three things younger generations can learn from their Boomer colleagues:

The Value of Competition

Baby Boomers were called the “me generation” for a reason. The sheer size of the cohort dictated a high level of competition that Boomers grew accustomed to and that they expressed in the workplace. Today, competition gets something of a bad rap as the pendulum swings in favor of a more team-oriented and collaborative approach to work. But competition is a motivator, and Boomers know it.

Competition became less important as Generation X came of age. They were a smaller population, so there wasn’t the same natural competition that exists in a larger group. GenX also had an independent, self-reliant streak that made them less concerned with what others were doing and more focused their own things.

For Millennials, teamwork and cooperation were valued over competition, hence the “everyone-gets-a-trophy” stereotype. Competition became viewed as something negative. But framed correctly, competition can be a strong and positive motivator.

Competition fuels innovation. It can drive employees to think strategically, develop creative solutions to problems and increase productivity.

Soft Skills

shutterstock_589025801Punctuality. Professionalism. Business etiquette. Networking. Boomers who have spent decades in the workplace expect these things. But as organizations have become more reliant on technology, “people skills” seem less relevant. To younger generations, they seem downright antiquated.

Not so. Soft skills continue to be in high demand. How important are soft skills? A recent McKinsey study reported that 40% of companies are struggling to fill jobs because younger workers lack soft skills. Employers know that hard skills on their own are not enough for employees to be successful. For younger generations, making an effort to develop soft skills can make a big impact on future career success.

Institutional Knowledge

According to a 2016 Gallup report, 21% of Millennials say they’ve changed jobs within the past year, which is more than three times the number of non-Millennials who report the same. At the other end of the spectrum, a separate 2016 poll showed that 40% of Baby Boomers have been with their employer for more than 20 years, and of those, 18% have been with their company at least 30 years.

Workplaces evolve, of course. But having a sense of organizational history, operational knowledge and key relationships is a huge advantage as companies look to the future. Expertise is expensive, and many savvy organizations have well-developed strategies for transferring the knowledge of employees getting ready to retire to the next generation of workers. For younger employees, gaining that institutional knowledge can mean having a hand in ensuring the future success of the organization.

The diversity of skills and experience in the workforce today spans five generations. From the Traditionalists to Generation Z and everything in between, each generation has unique strengths that others can learn from. Creating an environment that encourages close collaboration and mentoring across and among the different generations is a way that ensures that those strengths are maximized.



Management in Action: The Power of No

no-1532826_640In my current job, I have a saying: “We’ll never run out of ideas.” I work with a lot of very bright, creative people and while I really believe this to be the case, it’s also my code for “we can’t possibly implement every idea.”

Nor should we. Saying yes to everything can threaten a core mission and stalls innovation. Steve Jobs hit the nail on the head in 1997:

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

For employees who are early to mid-career, saying no to work can feel pretty daunting. But did you know that saying no for the right reasons and in the right way could actually be good for your career? Here are three good reasons to say no at work:

It’s not strategic.

Does the work that’s being asked of you align with your organization’s strategic priorities? If your organization has a plan that clearly lays out the direction of the organization–along with initiatives, tactics and goals that support it –it’s pretty easy to answer the question. If you’ve done a quick check against the plan and the work does not appear to align, that’s a good reason to say no. Chances are you have work that unquestionably DOES align and support the plan, and taking on work that doesn’t endangers those projects.

If your organization lacks such plan, it makes determining strategic value of work much harder. (Real talk: it makes everything much harder. If your place doesn’t have a plan, become the champion for creating a plan. More on that in a future post.)

There are capacity issues.

Time, personal bandwidth and money are finite resources in the workplace, and it seems like we’re often asked to do more with less. These very real constraints mean that not everything can be a “yes”—even super awesome, totally strategic initiatives. Capacity issues can be addressed in a few ways:

  • Adding capacity: overtime, outsourcing, new hire
  • Reprioritization: projects are rescheduled or deferred
  • Project size/scope reduction: scaling down in order to free up resources

If you or your team is at full capacity and none of the above are workable solutions, yes is impossible.

It’s not your area of expertise.

Many of us want to be seen as team players at work and want to come through for the people counting on us. But if you are not the right person for the type work that’s being requested and your lack of expertise can put quality at risk, you should pass.

That’s not to say you should never step out of you comfort zone and learn new skills. If you have the opportunity to gain new experience and the work allows for a learning curve, by all means go for it. Absent of that, it’s best to recommend an alternative.

The Art of Saying No

Now that you’ve got some solid reasons for saying no at work, here are some tips on how to do it in a way that doesn’t risk your reputation:

  • Be gracious. There is a difference between saying no and telling someone to go pound salt. Someone has come to you because they think you are the best person to help accomplish a goal. Acknowledge that.
  • Be a pro. If you are unable to take on the work, be honest and straightforward about the reasons why. Many communication experts recommend communicating in person instead of email to avoid confusion and have some clear dialog.
  • Be open to a compromise. Many times “no” actually means “not now”. Is there middle ground to be had? Can capacity issues be overcome? Getting to the heart of the issue can lead to a solution that is acceptable to all.
  • Be realistic. If you work in a heavy command-and-control environment, it’s not always possible to say no. Choose wisely. Help your leaders understand the barriers that are preventing you from saying yes and be ready with solutions.

In discussing the premise for this post, a fellow GenX Manager pointed out how saying yes actually helps with saying no. He had this to say:

“If you say no for good and solid reasons at the same time you’re doing everything you can to support the requests that you can say yes to quickly, effectively, and professionally, things are a lot easier.  When you’ve demonstrated that you will say ‘yes’ whenever you can and will do your best to help someone out, it is a lot more likely that they will believe and accept your ‘no’”.


The Management in Action series covers a variety of practical management topics that can help GenX managers strengthen their leadership skills. Got a topic you’d like to see explored? Leave a suggestion in the comments. 

The Birthday Edition: A GenX–er at Midlife

On July 8, 2017, I turn 44 years old. No big deal.

When I was in my 20s and 30s, I thought I’d freak out about turning 40. I did but in a good way. I loved it. My 30s were hard—I spent that decade raising a young child, building my own career, supporting a husband through a job loss, grad school and a career change. As the chaos calmed, turning 40 felt like I could finally look to the future. Who knew that four years later, in my work with this blog, I’d be examining the past?

I was born in 1973, pretty much the mid-point of Generation X. I remember how our generation was described—slackers, cynical, angry even—and thinking, yes, that is exactly how I feel. I didn’t think we were getting a bad rap at the time. To me, it was pretty dead on.

In the time that I have been really diving deep into generational issues, I have learned it takes more than a date range to bring a generation together. It takes shared experiences or what many call “defining moments”. My own analysis is that these moments—positive or negative—fundamentally challenge a belief or change a worldview. For many Baby Boomers, the assassination of JFK is their defining moment. For most Millennials, it’s September 11, 2001.

Like most generations, GenX has many defining moments. Here are the top three that most resonate with me: 

Challenger Disaster

challengerBy 1986, space travel was pretty well established. What made the space shuttle Challenger’s 10th mission particularly interesting at the time was the fact that Christa McAullife, a New Hampshire Social Studies teacher, would be joining the crew. It was to be the first time an ordinary citizen would join professional astronauts on a mission to space, opening our imaginations to the possibility of space travel for “regular people”. Seventy-three seconds after blastoff, the shuttle exploded, killing everyone aboard.

For the many GenX-ers who watched it live, it was difficult for us to wrap our minds around what we had just witnessed. I remember shocked teachers struggling to understand and explain, trying to process their own emotions while protecting those of their students as a piece of innocence was lost.


mtvNot every defining moment is a tragedy. In 1981 MTV played The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” and everything changed. Created as an idea to reach teenagers as the largest group of consumers of music and to re-engage them with television as a medium (there was very little dedicated programming for that demographic). MTV fused music with visual storytelling and gave us access to the artists that we loved and exposed us to new ones, 24/7.

My family didn’t have cable in 1981, but when we got it a few years later, I was hooked. As a young person obsessed with music, if I was watching television, I was watching MTV.

And I wasn’t the only one. Pop culture, news and even political programming began showing up on MTV, aimed at reaching teens and young adults. In my teens and early 20s, my most trusted news sources were Kurt Loder and Tabitha Soren. (MTV actually had a Peabody award-winning news department).

Never do I feel as old as I do when I turn on MTV today. Yes, I’ll watch Teen Mom OG with my daughter because she got me totally hooked, but I forget it’s the same network. For straight up music videos you have to seek out their sister stations, such as MTV2 or MTV (gulp) Classic.

Fall of the Berlin Wall

berlinwall_0On November 9, 1989, the government of East Germany announced that its citizens could freely visit West Germany, meaning that the wall that had been separating West Berlin from communist East Berlin was no longer necessary. That weekend, citizens from both sides of the wall came together to celebrate and to start tearing down the Berlin Wall.

I remember the date because I had a poster of the wall coming down hanging in my teenage bedroom. (So much for the Brat Pack for me I guess.) I also remember it because tense U.S./Soviet relations were a big part of my childhood. True, by the 80s we weren’t doing under-the-desk drills in school anymore, but I did understand that mutually assured destruction was just about the only thing keeping us from nuclear war. That’s pretty scary for a kid. So in 1989, at age 16, I thought maybe that’s something I didn’t have to worry about any more. Today, it feels downright nostalgic.

And so as I mark another successful trip around the sun, I wonder what the defining moments will be for subsequent generations. YouTube? An Obama presidency? A Trump presidency? Time will tell.

GenX-ers: What do you consider to be our defining moments? Boomers and Millennials, what about you? Reply in the comments.