There are a lot of unhappy Gen Xers out there who are not making the money they need to live the life they want to live, should live, or feel they could live—because they’re stuck in the middle. I think that’s one of the hardest pills to swallow. The pill I speak of is the realization that we are seeking career happiness, and worklife balance while quickly coming to the conclusion we may not be able to simultaneously pay our bills and have the career that would truly make us happy.
We’re trading career happiness for money to be able to live a better life, but are instead slowly living a life much like our Baby Boomer coworkers and bosses. It’s an interesting juxtaposition in the form of a steep climb of the personal career decision tree with branches so twisted that it is hard to determine which limb to choose next that will allow us to reach the blue sky.
As a Gen Xer, the sad truth is that you’ve got to do your time or prove yourself in the company before you’re taken seriously or for the Baby Boomers to see you as the executive you know yourself to be capable of becoming. Everyone will tell you that there’s no greater way to prove yourself in any company than to deliver well on products with consistency.
Proving yourself as an executive in every company is different. Some organizations want you to deliver on creating a strategy to save money or make money. Others will say you must deliver by adding to the value of the company, still others will expect you to exhibit “strategic thinking and tactical doing”. Some still might believe that delivering on mundane administrative task defines being an effective leader or manager.
Those latter are two distinctly different things though they are often lumped together. I believe you lead people but you manage projects. As a corporate executive, I didn’t manage my people, I led them and allowed them to amaze me with their talent. One of my favorite things to say to my direct reports was:
“I’ll share with you the what, why, and when for every task … You get to amaze me with the how it gets done.”
I don’t like to tell people how to do their job because I don’t like people telling me how to do my job. If you hire someone to tell them how to do their job, why don’t you just do the job yourself and save someone the misery of micromanagement. So I instead, I would tell them what they needed to do and allowed them to use their creativity, their intellect, their professionalism, and their expertise to come back with an innovative solution to meet the need as identified.
And this one sentence did one more thing. It empowered my direct reports in their work. And by giving them that empowerment, it allowed me to work with, and lead versus manage some of the smartest people, and hardest working professionals in the current workforce. In the end, this way of thinking and acting was seen by many of my past direct reports as the hallmark of a true manager of talent … and a truly talented manager.