What is today’s new normal?
We feel an urgency to stockpile and conserve food and resources. We can’t be physically close. The whole family is at home, working and schooling. To say our normal has been upended is an understatement. People are experiencing their survival emotions while leadership teams are being put to the test for how they will respond and help their companies emerge stronger and more resilient. There’s good news. We’ve actually been here before, and our past can inform the present and our future.
I sat down with Jessie Newburn, a generational intelligence expert and cohost of The Evolution of Intelligence podcast, to better understand what we, as leaders both in our community and our businesses, need to understand about the generations in our workforce and their role in our current environment.
The boomer generation, born 1943-1960, has a role in today’s new normal, which is to be our moral compass and set the direction for how the world will traverse the difficult times we’re in now and have yet ahead. Now is a time for our boomer leaders to get clear on their organization’s values as it relates to getting work done, communicating to internal and external stakeholders while creating conditions of satisfaction for some tough decisions we will need to make in the coming weeks and months. Empty leadership statements such as “we put our employees first” will fall on deaf ears compared to statements such as, “We honor your commitment to our team. We are doing everything we can to protect your job as we navigate uncharted territory.” Boomers will need to choose their words and actions carefully to inspire Gen Xers and millennials and then get out of the way so they can execute.
Gen-Xers, born 1961-1981, are being called into service in a unique way. Newburn explains. “They are solidly in midlife, resilient, pragmatic, cunning, and always focused on the end result while ensuring the hyper-protection of their children.” As a Gen-Xer, I feel like we were born for this moment. We’ve learned how to thrive on the backside of the dot-com bust, 9/11, and the 2008 recession. We have resiliency coursing through our veins, and we know how to get things done as evidenced, for example, by Elon Musk’s decision to manufacture 250,000 N95 masks and 1,000 ventilators.
Gen-Xers will play a large role in helping us navigate through and beyond COVID-19. We can expect them to build systems, processes, and innovations that will exceed expectations and accelerate performance. They will marshal in this new today while making improvements that will last a lifetime. Allow your Gen-Xers to take the reins, and trust that they know how to steer the ship.
Millennials, born 1982-2004, are about to rise up, collectively and collaboratively. “They are the hero archetype, and they have been chomping at the bit for the opportunity to make the world a better place,” Newburn says. This generation, which came into the workforce and caused frustration for their Gen-X colleagues who couldn’t understand why they needed so much help “adulting,” will emerge from this crisis having made a significant impact that will be noticed by the entire nation. Gen-Xers can trust millennials to take on large projects cheerfully, as this “we” generation rises to the call for personal sacrifice and teamwork.
Ultimately, every generation is receiving a calling to design our new normal. We’ll find millennials go from #okboomer to #i<3u2 as they receive mentorship from boomers on how to process their emotions. We'll also see them quickly leveling up their capacity and skills in working with Gen-X leaders. Newburn adds,
“The generational alignment during society’s Crisis Era, or ‘Fourth Turning,’ as it’s called is this: Elder Boomers will point the way out of darkness; midlife Gen-Xers will marshal scarce resources and lead the troops; good-cheer Millennials will respond to the Boomer call for sacrifice . . . and will exceed even our wildest hopes of what they can do.”
Understanding this cycle and our role in it empowers us with the information we need to activate each generation to step into its role and unique gifts. As a society, we have a lot to be hopeful for right now. We have access to the best technology, the best scientists, the best engineers, the best integrators, and the best visionaries in the world. And they are working together for the first time in our lifetime.
There is no question that when this is all over, we will emerge with the growth of a new global economy, a new global business community, a new global supply chain, and the new global society that learned how to work it out and achieve a common goal. Our today will create a future that will be so vastly brimming with energy and possibility it’d make our heads spin to even conceive of that now. The power of our collaboration will shift the way the world operates forever. The only question is, what will we use our newfound collective superpowers to do?
The way I see it, COVID-19 doesn’t stand a chance against all of humanity.