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LEADERSHIP AT THE PEAK – Generation X

By George Nyabadza

THIS past Tuesday I was a speaker at one of South Africa’s leading banking institutions quarterly leadership forums.



ans-serif”>One of the speakers before me was a motivational speaker who I had, unfairly I admit, already classified, along with all other motivational speakers, as high in entertainment value but low in tangible implementable value. True to form, his presentation was highly entertaining every single minute of it but completely devoid in any form of the usual rah-rah stuff that consist of many a speaker’s presentation.


I must admit his open criticism of the value-less “run-of-the-mill” motivational speakers and also the fact that once upon a time he was a practising chartered accountant like yours truly also created a sub-conscious level rapport.


His presentation was called “Mind the Gap” and it focused on bringing forward an understanding of why different age groups do not understand each other. I was quite fascinated by the way he highlighted the differences between three distinct age groups — those in the 60s and above, the mid 30s to the early 60s (baby boomers) and the teens to the early 30s (Generation X).


In skilful story-telling he demonstrated how historical, societal and political events have impacted on the way that each age group viewed life and reacted to the environment. Each has a unique value system that determines how they think and relate to each other and also to others from different generations.


Generation Xers are the most challenging of these groupings in the sense that the understanding of how they function is limited. After all, all management and psychological research has been developed to a large extent by and for baby boomers.


Whereas the future leaders of companies have for a while been expected to be in their 50s and 60s the reality of it is that over the next five years that age level will drop significantly and more and more business leaders will be in their 30s and 40s and as the decade rolls out it should not surprise us if leaders are in their 20s.


Each generation is driven by different value systems. For example baby boomers’ thinking and reasoning structures are driven by realities such as apartheid, colonisation, the first landing of the man on the moon, outer space exploration, the whole personal development emphasis on vision, mission, purpose, action plans.


On the other hand, Generation X realities that shape their thinking and reasoning are different — Nelson Mandela has always been free, the Zimbabwe war of liberation is a historical event, Zimbabwe has always been independent, South Africa has always been independent, and this I thought was quite funny ‘Michael Jackson has always been white’, men have always walked on the moon, cell phones have always been around and so on — completely different paradigms!


The question that arises for business marketers is to what extent should marketing products differentiate between the generations. SABC has just spent millions of rands on an ineffective campaign design to encourage listeners and viewers to pay their TV licences.


The pay-off line says: “pay your licence fees, it’s the right thing to do”. On the face of it there is nothing wrong with that statement but when you begin to understand that the baby boomer and the older generations’ values centre around doing the right thing and that they do not need any encouragement to pay TV licences because they pay them anyway and that, on the other hand, its the Generation X who do not pay their licences and who, if told to do something even if ‘it’s the right thing to do’ do not do it, then the advert misses the point outrightly.


A different approach driven by an understanding of the generational gaps was required. So the question to the marketing strategists, corporate, religious, political, is all about whether the message being communicated is relevant to the target market or is it a one-size-fits-all kind of approach and appreciating that what you value may be disdained by your target market.


*South African-based George W Nyabadza is the chief executive officer of Achievement Success Dynamics International. For more information on leadership development programmes please visit our website www.achievement-success.com or e-mail George on info@achievement-success.com

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