Conan O’Brien: the poster boy for why GenX is bitter

Posted January 13, 2010 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

Generational experts all like to poke fun at the fact that GenX (those born between ’61 and 77 or there abouts) are the bitter generation.  And all this GenX LeaderTalker wants to say is…is there any wonder?  We enter the workplace in the mid to late 80’s when it’s overladen with baby boomers who are sitting in every position available. On top of that, the market crashes and we get thrown into a recession, forcing many to return to school to get an MBA only to come out even further in dept as they sling drinks at the Keg on Friday and Saturday nights to pay the bills.

And then finally, we start to see light at the end of the tunnel.  The “grey tsunami” is approaching.  Boomers are starting to turn 65 and FINALLY we’re going to get our just rewards for years of slogging it out in middle management.  The C-suite is finally about to open up.

When WHAM.  Two things happen… the baby boomers start proclaiming that 60 is the new 40 and the darn economy tanks yet again.

So called “succession” planning priorities are starting to get pushed to the back burner because 50 and 60 something’s can’t “afford” to retire or are planning on upsetting the apple cart by not retiring like they’re “supposed” to (just listen to Dennis Hopper…ARGH!).  Afterall, they have all the knowledge and experience, so it makes “good business sense” to keep them around on a part time basis to continue to lead our organizations.  God forbid we put an “under experienced” GenXer or Y into the senior roles…

Can anyone blame GenX for being a touch bitter? 

Organizations who are toying with pulling back on promises made to up and coming leaders really need to look no further than the current Conan O’Brien / Jay Leno Tonight Show debacle to get a picture of what’s going to happen next.

Essentially, Conan (our GenX hero) has put in his time, been given the promotion and, in one fell swoop had it taken away because Leno’s “career act 2” (the new phrase for Boomers who are reinventing their worklife) is a flop.

And here’s the outcome… Conan’s doing what any other self-respecting, talented individual is going to do: he’s walking.  And, my guess is that his audience is going to walk with him.

Let this be a lesson to every leader out there that’s messing with their succession strategies because of a short-term “ratings” (read market) problem.  Your lousy talent isn’t going to leave, but your stars who’ve been waiting in the wings surely will.  And that ends my bitter rant for today.

Happy leading!


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  1. I’m a baby boomer but I totally agree with you on this. White boomer men have cut the throats of the U.S. economy with their greed and indifference and need for control and power. We have been called “the greatest generation” when that is really not the case. We just lived through more things than previous generations. I do understand the anger and I’m angry too because I was promised 40 acres and a mule and I’m still waiting for it.