Lead, follow or stand aside: Gen X, its our time to lead!

11 Jan

Hey! Wait! We are right here!

In my community (non-profit), there is much being written about  the great leadership opportunities available for Gen Y (millennials) and the leadership positions of Baby Boomers. Titles like “Daring to Lead” and “Ready to Lead” . Deafening silence about the leadership “anything” of  Generation X.

As far as I can tell,  Generation X  ( of which I am a proud member- 1970 baby)   is not currently leading the non-profit sector.  Yes, many of them are in the senior leadership  (#2 positions such as vice president or deputy director), but they are not running organizations at the rate that I (and they) would like.

It’s like Peanut Butter and Jelly

We are considered the “sandwich generation“.  In the sociological aspect, this means that we are taking care of two generations (our children and our parents).  Professionally, we are the sandwich generation because we are in between two very dynamic generations.  Baby boomers continue to be very much in power because they do not want to or cannot leave. (Side note: many current non-profit executives say that they do not have the retirement security to leave their current positions). Millenials are hungry to lead,eschew hierarchy and have a desire for warp speed movement up the career ladder.

Feeling squeezed, my fellow Gen Xers are worried, annoyed, competitive, and, as far as I can tell, being asked to accept their fate as being overlooked for leadership positions. They want to be team players so they serve in their #2 positions; they mentor and train the younger staff; and they fill in the leadership shoes of the executive directors when they need to.

Words that still ring true

Not so secretly, they want to lead, they are ready to lead. But will they get the chance?  What will happen when the next generation comes of age after Gen Y? Will Gen Y be pushed out of the way just as Gen X has? Or is this the evolution of leadership, i.e. those not in power always want power, regardless of the generation?

I am going to do some research and find out.  Hey Gen X, am I off base?   Tell me.  Gen Y, Baby Boomers, what do you think?



8 Responses to “Lead, follow or stand aside: Gen X, its our time to lead!”

  1. Suzy Meneguzzo January 13, 2010 at 5:12 pm #


    Thank you for finally saying it! I get so annoyed with this “leadership gap” discussion. As you say, Boomers can’t or wouldn’t get out of the way and Yers are nipping at our heals. By the time, the first are gone the later will have leapfrogged us (or started new orgs for which we will still be 2nd fiddle).

    I also find that Boomers tend to be a mixed bag as mentors. While there is a great deal of discussion about developing leaders, bringing people along, etc, when the rubber really hits the road those mentors expect you to be a leader…as long as you do it just like them.

    I have no problem paying my dues…but its difficult to see any opening for a move into leadership. My boss could potentially work another 20 years. I’m patient but…

    Thanks for speaking for us!


    • socialchangediva January 13, 2010 at 11:16 pm #


      Glad to lend my voice to this feeling. It comes from my own feelings and the feelings of my friends.

      I do think that being in the sandwich generation, we have been told to pay our dues because that is what we were told we had to but the generation after us has been told, the world is your oyster. But neither is the reality that we are living in now.

      Either way, Gen X does have to find and take our place in the leadership and do it in a way that is very smart and strategic and brings efficient , innovative ways of doing things. Or we have to figure out how to offer our socialchange solutions outside of the normal NP paradigm.

      Our time is now, i believe it.

  2. Marc A. Pitman, FundraisingCoach.com January 13, 2010 at 5:33 pm #


    Thank you! I’m all for paying dues too…well, not ALL for it…but I get the game.

    I’m thinking Xers are going to have to go independent to take on the leadership they want. That’s good: feeds into our values for autonomy, etc. But it could further an already crowded nonprofit landscape.

    And this is exactly the time the nonprofit world needs no-nonsense GenX leaders.

    • socialchangediva January 13, 2010 at 11:28 pm #


      Thank you for your post and RT. I am so with you on the going independent route too. But that does not address the systemic problem of the leadership pipeline and also moving non profits forward to say ” hand the reins over, we have this. ”

      I want to push those buttons and question that leadership and shift that paradigm (and any other cliche you put in there). Oh, i am getting antsy now!!

      I wonder if Gen X needs to present ourselves better, if we need to be more pointed and strategic in our current leadership and start weighing into those discussion not only in our own organizations but also with every report and story that comes out.

      For me, this is not about being forgotten, this is about kicking down some ceilings.


      • Marc A. Pitman, FundraisingCoach.com January 19, 2010 at 1:30 am #

        Love it! Lets kick down ceilings! 🙂

        I’m with you. But from what I’ve read, the demographics are still against us.

        Especially if older Boomers come back to volunteer. They’re going to want “knowledge worker” type volunteer jobs…visionary things. Which is what we want to do too.

        Yikes. This sounds far more pessimistic than I really feel…

      • socialchangediva January 19, 2010 at 7:56 pm #

        Hi Marc-
        Its a dance isnt it. We can’t step on toes, but we want to lead. We have to mentor, be mentored, learn and teach. Oh and lead. Its so much!

        Following my initial post, I have been doing some research on this and have some follow up ideas i am going to lay out later about this.

        But here is one place to go:

        The Hourglass Blog

        It takes a true leader to be able to pass on the torch and truly let go of the handle. * wait, that was a little deep*

        So, i am going to go form my thoughts and put it in a follow up post.

        Thanks for the discussion. This is so great!

  3. Doxy January 18, 2010 at 7:04 pm #

    Hate to break it to you, but we tail-end Baby Boomers (1963) are sandwiched too—and at 46, it’s not likely I’m going to be retiring anytime soon! My kids (ages 13 and 9) and my grandmother (age 84) like to eat and have a roof over their heads…. 😉

    Of course, I own my own business—so I’m not keeping someone else from advancing. But that’s not always the easiest thing in the world…

    • socialchangediva January 19, 2010 at 7:48 pm #


      I wonder if there is room for everyone. If the economics were not a factor, would the baby boomers still be holding positions of power? Of course I understand the economics of it all, but the power dynamic is what I want to shift.

      Now, how to do that? I am wondering.

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