Gen X Leaders Should Embrace Millennial Values

Gen X Leaders Should Embrace Millennial Corporate Values. Mostly.

Millennials have changed the workforce in countless ways. That’s not all bad, of course, and Gen X leaders should embrace Millennial corporate values (some of them, anyway). Millennials have changed the face of companies, literally, with more diverse employees. They’ve changed employee expectations, with more emphasis on things they care about, like CSR efforts and a voice in their career. And they generally have questioned – even rejected — many of the professional norms (read: restraints) around dress codes, organization charts and communication style.

Here are three ways that Gen X leaders should embrace Millennial corporate values. (And one way they shouldn’t.)

The value of X. Generation X probably doesn’t get enough credit for the advances they made in progressive values that challenged the corporate workplace. The tolerance for gay people, blacks, and women, in particular were advanced, even normalised by Xers. Perhaps if they got more credit, they could see how the Millennial perspective is mostly an extension or broadening of those values to the larger LGBTQ community, all people of color, and even more protection for women in the workplace. Perhaps Gen X would not feel like the values of Gen Y are not different, but an effort to further improve — more like upgrading from a standard double in the hotel to a suite. It’s more than Gen X could have imagined for themselves, but not so distinct from it.

Bring your whole self to work, not just the corporate one. For decades, corporate life meant sartorial restraints such as a suit and tie, heels and pantyhose, and conservative hair cuts. It also required an equally suppressed sense of self. Personal life bleeding into the work day was penalised – ask any working mother of that era who had to leave early to pick up a sick child. Now, you can ditch the tie — probably even (gasp!) wear jeans. But what Gen X might not realise – it’s finally ok to do a lot more than that. Men can announce that they do the morning carpool and Black women can wear their hair natural. It’s ok to have a hipster beard, or a tattoo. Or not. Whatever. The point is, more than ever before you can bring your whole self to work, not the one your employer approves.

The X ascension. Remember, not only can you make the choices, you’re quickly becoming in charge of them. 51% of senior management roles are held by Gen X employees. So it’s your job – literally – to continue to be part of the change, as the X generation always has been. Think of this as not only a benefit to you, but to the Millennials on your team. They’re looking to you for how to become the leaders who will succeed you in the mid-21st century. Someday they’ll be the ones trying to embrace a younger generation’s values, while also maintaining the skills of leadership that have not changed.

How Gen X leaders embrace Millennial values, and stay true to themselves.

Modern values can’t change the bottom line. Corporate values, ethics, and expectations still have a very critical place in the office. Accountability is necessary for productivity. Experience creates efficiencies. Gen X has to maintain the professional standards of corporate communication, supportive work environments. . .and plain ol’ profitability. Because Millennial-driven values like unlimited PTO, tuition reimbursement and more meaningful CSR come at a price. Principles are great, but profitability is the reality. And, the only way to fund and build the environment you seek.

The new challenge of a more holistic self at work, means less restraint, but it doesn’t mean a more casual relationship among colleagues. In fact, many of the values that Millennials prioritise require a new type of restraint in the workplace. The #MeToo movement is changing previously endured behaviours, more sensitivity to other cultures is expected, and relaxed attire cannot slide into the unprofessional. Generation X did not establish historical corporate restrictions, nor have they been the face of the modernisation of them. But they will build the road between.

Robert Kovach is the Director of Leader Success for Cisco’s Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area. He has been an advisor to leadership teams of Fortune 500, FTSE 100 and FTSE Global 500 companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership effectiveness and organizational agility. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own and not those of Cisco. Contact him for speaking enquiries.

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