Man sits apart. By Mead Schaeffer, c. 1933. Good Housekeeping magazine?

Why GenerationX Didn’t Get Mentors

Forrest ChristianCareers, Coaching, Generations 4 Comments

Last time we looked at why you don’t have a mentor, and focused on the Hidden High Potentials. Today, let’s look at the generational parts of Why You Didn’t Get a Mentor. This is specific to the United States, but you may find it applicable (or not) if you live elsewhere.

It turns out that those born from around 1961 to 1982 (there is a little bit of fuzz around these dates, but not much) were highly unlikely to find a mentor unless they were born at the end and could find one within that same birth cohort. Let’s look at why being part of this generation affected mentoring.

The prior generation, the infamous Baby Boomers, had a group or herd mentality. As they aged into the workforce, the idea of teams and team management came front and center. Boomers think of themselves as an Us. They recoil from individual responsibility and accountability. Work systems that showed individual performance clearly and objectively were eschewed for fuzzier, less specific to the person measures. It’s all about Us. They were mentored a lot more than their speechifying would let you think, because they were “the nation’s future”.

The generation before the Boomers — called the Silent Generation and lasting to about 1943 births — were organization men. They believed in succeeding by staying the course laid out for them. They obeyed and put into practice what others told them to do. They tended towards excessive self-centeredness, engaging in “self-expanding” activities and ensuring that they get massive benefits from the state while refusing to pay taxes. For Silents, it’s all about Me. They were mentored because they were to be protected and coddled, and they obeyed the rules.

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Before them we had the “greatest generation”, those irritating S.O.B.s who make up the GI Generation. They take credit for what they only were putting into place, but also know how to be obedient to authority. They believe that they can do anything if they work together, and that the world owes them because they are so wonderful, passing legislation to ensure that they are always taken care of. For the GI Generation, it is all about the We, as in “we can do it”. People mentored them because “they are going to go places!”

Then GenerationX came along and blew all this up. The most aborted, most executed, least cared for, most child-worked, least educated, most murdered generation believed that success was mostly about hustling, tricking and most of all, a lot of luck. GenX has almost no sense of Me, We, or Us. For GenX, it’s all about I. No one is going to help you out. There is no deep meaning. The Boomers are full of, well, you know. Their vaunted “values” are nothing more than hot air. The Silents are lazy and self-centered. The GI Generation were old codgers who did nothing but suck at the teat of the welfare state.

For their part, the other generations have always hated and feared GenXers. They were lazy, dangerous, amoral and a threat to the future of the nation. The 1991 recession was borne almost entirely on the backs of one generation: GenX. GenX was always the scapegoat. And because of that, GenXers were to be shunned, like the scapegoat of the Bible, unclean, unholy, having been given the guilt of the sins of the other generations.

GenXers also didn’t have that sense of team-ness. To GenX, a team is a group of experts at different things who choose to come together to accomplish something. Performance is still judged on individual performance. They see systems that reveal individual performance as intelligent and useful. They eschew the “team player” attitude of Boomers because they see it as nothing more than self-serving pap for those who can’t perform. Pessimistic and overwhelmingly conservative, they don’t mind confrontations and conflict. Characterized by a combination of anger and an almost total lack of self value (“we know what our lives are worth”), their pragmatic realism is seen as threatening the moral fabric.

Probably unlikely that someone in another generation would want to mentor GenX.

If you are GenX, the generational deck was stacked against you before you were born, for (to misquote the Apostle Paul) God hated GenX but the Boomers he loved, before they were even born. The other generations’ hatred and fear of you, plus your attitude of self-achievement, kind of ruled out any mentoring going on.

Image Credit: Story illustration by Mead Schaeffer, ca. 1933. From Good Housekeeping?

Comments 4

  1. Technically belonging to the baby boom generation I read this with very mixed feelings. I think you capture the generalization of the generational differences. One of my personal issues is that I always have refused to conform with the herd. I have always found it easier to work and think with the younger more individualized generations.
    In a GenX world the old corporate structures are irrelevant, it is just a pacifier for the older generations. In the ultimate meritocracy we are judged by our individual expertise and contribution.
    For us that work with Requisite Organization this means throwing out organization and instead understanding how individual capabilities interact. And if we have organizations then employees will hold managers accountable, just read Vineet Nayar.

  2. Post

    I’ve been thinking that Boomers and Silents who are RO-centric have really missed the boat on getting RO into the zeitgeist. The generation most likely to support it is GenX, for the reasons you mention. Except for Modes and the predictive growth charts: goes against their “pull yourself up” values. The Millenials take direction from Boomers pretty easily but they also get led astray by the corrupt Boomer values. In the end, the Glacier Method is entirely pragmatic and meritocratic.

    I’ll have to read Vineet Nayar, whose name is in the moment unknown to me.

    There’s a change that’s taking place in GenX. We’re aging out of wilding and into protecting our kids and sacrificing our futures for the future of our children. If you want to know how the nuke and global warming issues will be solved, look to GenX. Just don’t expect them to get any credit, or to expect any.

  3. “God hated GenX but the Boomers he loved”

    I resonate highly with these two articles Forrest. Your writing has helped me greatly in numerous ways. It think I get your point in your purposeful misquote. Just cannot get behind it. I do not know the mind of God, but this statement does not seem very helpful for those earnestly seeking him.

  4. Interesting post. I would have said that the Boomers were the amoral selfish community and the GenXers were the community that self sacrifices for their children because the Boomers (their parents) did not.

    I still maintain that most corporations suffer from compression because the people at the top shouldn’t be there. Once one person with too low level makes it high enough, he/she populates their sphere with other who are too low level and bloated inefficient corporate head quarters are born. This contributes more to the lack of mentoring than any other single factor. No one mentors high pots for the simple reason they are incapable.

    The answer I have come up with in my 20 years experience in management is to make the corporate office as small as possible. All corporate functional areas have a head in the office but the body and tail is in the field (plant or sales office). Your employees are then attached to the “real world” and not to a feudal system of spheres of influence and corporate politics. The trick is two fold. First, to prevent any one organization from becoming too large that it doesn’t function as an integrated team. Second, to make sure your team is made of people who see each other and interact daily. Time spent eating lunch is primo mentoring time. In this decentralized organization, you increase opportunity for relationship and mentoring and prevent the “employee = number” mentality. Also, if you have a problem in a field office, if you keep them small enough (30 or fewer salaried, although that’s just a guestimate) changing the head changes the whole dynamic of the organization. Whereas at GM, GE or any other large corporation, changing the CEO makes virtually no measurable difference to the organization as a whole unless measured over a period of several years.

    Just my $0.02.

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