They are here. And their career path could not be any more different if they were beamed from Outer Space. Who are they? Gen-X leaders.
To a prior decade of leaders, Superman descended from the skies to save western civilization. And then it was Spiderman. Now we have a new superhero arising from the ashes of prior leadership: the Gen-X’er on the leadership track.
What makes this generation of leadership different? Haven’t there always been ambitious, young wanna-be’s vying for their seat on the fast track rocket to reward and riches? Yes . . . but the trip is faster now than it has ever been. Which is why the Gen-X leadership learning curve is much shorter than it likely was for you.
The rewards come sooner in their career. There is less time and less tolerance for missteps along the way. Which begs the question, what are missteps for a Gen-X on the leadership track?
In the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s a young man or woman identified as leader material had 10-15 years to grow their career. Gen-X’ers have five years before they are pigeon holed at the same level for the next 10-15 years. Every step is then magnified in its ability to impress. Every misstep is magnified in its ability to corrupt the process.
One answer is of course performance. But performance is not enough in our 21st century business environment. In the business world as in politics, perception is everything. It’s not just about how well you do your job. It’s about how well you communicate how well you do your job.
7 ways communication skills can accelerate a Gen-X career:
- Identify the connection between communication and leadership skills. The earlier a Gen-X makes the connection between these two skill sets, the more velocity their success will have. In the 60’s, CEO’s did not have to have well tuned communication skills. Today, you can’t be a leader if you can’t communicate effectively. Period.
- Value the axiom: visibility =’s viability. The earlier you embrace the value of visibility the faster your career accelerates. This requires a different mindset: to be verbally visible. Children are taught to be seen and not heard. A concept that will not work in the executive world. Use your communication skills to make your value visible. The more visible you are, the more viable you are to your organization.
- Seize speaking opportunities. These opportunities will be both internal and external. Once you have the mindset to speak, you will see opportunities everywhere. The opportunity may be informal. Do people listen when you talk at the conference table? Do you seek the spotlight? The opportunities may be external. When you are in the spotlight do you give a powerful presentation? Are your non-verbal skills working for or against you? Do you use the scalpel of clarity?
- Use communication to advance professional relationships. We have more ways to communicate than ever before in history. Use communication to enhance relationships that are under you on the organizational chart, peer relationships, and relationships above you. Even in this technological world, relationships will drive your success. Use verbal and technological communication to nurture these relationships.
- Protect Your Value. Everyone has a value they bring to their job and their company. One of your challenges is to protect that value. You want to comment at a meeting, ask yourself, does this protect my value? Gary is slow to answer requests and emails. Co-workers and senior staff end up talking about his lack of response rather than talking about his expertise or performance. Respond whether or not you have the answer, to protect your value.
- Keep Moving Forward Gen-x’ers, like many that came before them, get caught in the office web. They are tempted to get involved in office or industry politics. They need to use their communication skills to always move forward through challenges and have the discipline to not get mired in making a stand on a mountain that doesn’t really exist. Ask yourself daily, how can I use communication to move forward?
- Understand and value the role of presence. Established CEO’s struggle with presence. If you learn early the value of establishing presence, you will rise above your peers. And you will be more ready for your next position than those that don’t understand that presence is a 24/7 trait. Establishing presence is a process. The earlier you get started the earlier you will own a conversation and own a room.
Everything moves faster today. Even Superman and Spiderman would be impressed with the speed of the technology we use on a daily basis. Dial up was too slow so we moved to high speed. Careers too are on high speed. Young leaders do not have the luxury to take their time to “bloom”. Those that understand and leverage newly honed communication skills, will not only bloom, they will own the garden.