My assistant, Espy, was in her late twenties when she began to work for me years ago.  She was a Generation Xer “Hispanic-American” and had come to this country in her late teens.  She spoke English & Spanish fluently and had assimilated well into the American culture.   As I first began my Millennial lab experiment in the office, I did a lot of  generational research and read many of the books written by the leading  generational experts.  I would often document and reference some of the key research and my assistant would help me organize the material.  After she helped me, I’d notice that Espy would have a perplexed frown on her face with the information I was finding. 

So one day I asked her why she always had a perplexed look on her face when she was organizing the generational data.  Her response was surprising.  I can’t remember everything she said but her last comment stayed with me.   She said “It doesn’t depict who I am”. Her comment intrigued me so I asked her to elaborate.  The bottom line was that she related better to the traits and values of  Baby Boomers & Veterans than of Generation Xers and the reasons why became evident as she explained.  Espy spent most of her childhood in Nicaragua.  None of the current events that shaped Generation X in the US were relatable to her since they were US centric.  She was influenced by a completely different set of events – those specific to Nicaragua when she was a young girl. 

Those current events she experienced in Nicaragua gave her a set of traits & values that didn’t line up with those of  Generation Xers in the US. The traits & characteristics generally associated with Generation X in the US - self-reliance, latch key kids, children of divorce, a bit cynical, tech savvy – did not describe Espy.  The traits that did were honor, hard work, optimism, paying one’s dues, respecting authority.  These traits are a combination of those we use in the US to describe Veterans and Baby Boomers.

Interestingly enough, Espy’s cousin who had come to the US earlier - when she was 4 years old, related not only to the current events but to the traits that define Generation X in the US.  Also, the fact that Espy grew up in Nicaragua gave her a different frame of reference than someone who may have grown up in Colombia or India or Singapore during those same years. 

That conversation with Espy was powerful because it made me realize that I could not rely on just the general distinctions made about the generations but rather that I had to incorporate an ethnic and racial layer to truly represent all members of my team. As I said in my last post, typically this ethno-racial layer is omitted from generational studies and discussions. It is assumed that all people that fall in one of the four generational categories have had the same general experiences growing up that led to the traits they exhibit. Although I understand the basis of that assumption, Espy proved that it does not work in all cases.    

As I read the statistics that show that the US will increasingly become a minority majority, I wondered just how much of the workforce could relate to Espy’s generational dilemma?  Just what percentage of Millennials entering the workforce would be part of the minority majority and would ethnicity and race become a bigger component of the generational conversation than it had in the past.  Since my team was 90% Multi-Cultura, l I realized I had another rare opportunity to answer those questions. My experiments in this area were enlightening and I will share the results with you from time to time.

So if you’re wondering why a certain Millennial or Xer on your team is not displaying the general characteristics of her generation, you now have a clue as to why that is. The more we as  leaders understand our staff and what makes them tick, what motivates them and inspires them, the better able we will be to effectively lead them and harness their potential.  That has always been such a fulfilling part of my job.  In the 21st Century, the “one size fits all” style of leadership doesn’t work well.  The more customized the approach, the more connected you will be to your team and the more they will connect with you.