There they are, waiting for the gun to go off on day one. It’s not fair, but Boomers are already at a disadvantage. Others have gotten a head start and they are already behind – far behind. It’s high noon, April 22, 1889. The Sooners have snuck in before the official start of the Oklahoma land rush to stake their claims to many of the best positions.

Unfortunately, this is also true for today’s Baby Boomers who wait until day one to start their new jobs. They lag others in relevance, relationship building and technological acumen. The fix requires them to leverage their Fuzzy Front End to catch up in all of those.

 

Boomers’ Relevance as Leaders

Do the math. If people work from their 20s through their 60s, the mid-point is their 40s. Most leaders will go through the natural progression from aspiring to new to established to senior to fading leaders.

20s: Aspiring leaders

30s: New leaders

40s: Established leaders

50s: Senior leaders

60s: Fading leaders

Each cohort will look up one level. Aspiring leaders aspire to actually lead. (True.) New leaders aspire to be established. (True.) Established leaders aspire to take over from their superiors. (True.) Senior leaders aspire to fade. (Not a chance.)

Baby Boomers have a history of redefining cultural norms to put themselves in the center of the universe (at least in their own minds.) That game is over. They are going to have to flip their mindset from directing to guiding. The only path to relevance for them is for them to become other-focused leaders. Only those that make this change will have any relevance as leaders.

 

Boomers’ Relationship Building and Technical Acumen

Every generation thinks they are markedly different than previous generations. It’s never really been true until the generation of digital natives. Growing up with the Internet means they relate to people in ways that are completely different than their predecessors. Boomers use the Internet. But they have to pedal a lot faster to catch up to the “Sooner” digital natives.

Boomers will need to invest heavily in relationship building – especially with digital natives. Boomers will have to learn to communicate on screens in addition to face to face.

The technical acumen piece goes beyond just screen communication. The coming Internet of things means we’re going to have data on everything. Future leaders are going to need to be able to interpret and manage completely different levels of information flows that today. As Henry Childs told us, “Don’t ask who. Ask what.” Boomers are going to have to learn to think technical solutions before people solutions.

 

Get a Head Start

Justin Bariso did a nice build on Tom Hank’s Golden Globes acceptance speech and the advice to “Show up on time. Know the text. Have a head full of ideas.” Key points applicable to Boomers or anyone else moving into a new job include:

 

  • Being early gives you time to get comfortable with your surroundings, settle and gather your thoughts.
  • “Generally speaking, the more prepared you are, the more successful you’ll be.”
  • Taking the time for concentrated thought about what you might do – testable hypotheses and best current thinking you’ll improve as you go.

 

This is all part of leveraging the magical Fuzzy Front End between accepting and starting (or between knowing there’s going to be a land rush and when the gun actually goes off.) We continue to have six prescriptions. For Boomers:

 

  1. Determine your leadership approach given the context and culture you face, paying particular attention to the digital natives with whom you’re going to have to build relationships on their terms.
  2. Identify key stakeholders up, down and across, both live and virtual.
  3. Craft your entry message using current best thinking and think through all the different ways you can communicate that live and digitally.
  4. Jump-start key relationships and accelerate your learning, leveraging a much broader net with many more information sources for learning.
  5. Manage your personal and office setup both in the office and digitally.
  6. Plan your Day One, early days and first 100 days with both live and virtual interactions.

 

If you’re a Boomer onboarding into a new job, expect to find digital natives who got there sooner. Pay attention to them and enroll them on their terms, not yours. You’re the newcomer.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #733) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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