Prime Minister Cameron: Another X'er at the Helm

I was intrigued by the recent article in The New York Times on David Cameron, the new British Prime Minister. Born in 1966, the 43-year-old Cameron is a member of Generation X. (So is U.S. President Barack Obama, who is 48.)

Based on the Times’s characterization, it sounds like Mr. Cameron shares many of the traits and perspectives I’ve observed in other X’ers.

Here’s my general description of Gen X’s formative events and the implications of each for leadership, followed by direct quotes from the The New York Times article about Mr. Cameron.

Accelerated contact with the real world . . . inclined to meet commitments and take employability seriously.

That he succeeded is a reflection of his toughness, acumen and resolve.

Distrust of institutions and self-reliance . . . strong survival skills and the ability to handle change with resilience: a well-nurtured portfolio of options and networks.

One thing Mr. Cameron does have is flexibility, said Peter Snowdon, author of “Back From the Brink: The Inside Story of the Tory Resurrection.”

The big idea of his campaign was something he called the big society, the notion that rather than depending on government to provide their needs, people should look to community and volunteer organizations.

A sense of alienation and a preference of “alternative” . . . an inclination to innovate, to look for a different way forward; outward-facing.

Quoting Peter Snowdon: But to him, most things are up for debate, for framing and discussing and forging positions on.

An awareness of global issues and multiculturalism . . . a more unconscious acceptance of diversity than any preceding generation and the ability to welcome the contributions of diverse individuals.

Amid grumbling from old-school Tories, Mr. Cameron aggressively sought to bring more women and minorities into the party and into Parliament. He promoted environmental issues and spoke out in favor of gay rights and civil partnerships.

Skepticism and an ability to isolate practical truths . . . rich humor and incisive perspective.

But Anthony Seldon, a political biographer and the master of Wellington College, said he admired Mr. Cameron’s approach.

“He’s been very impressive in the election campaign, in quite an unexpected way,” Mr. Seldon said. “He hasn’t tried to be what he’s not. He speaks to a country as it is at the moment, when it needs to recover its belief in politics.”

Childhood experiences . . . fiercely dedicated to being good parents, raising important questions about balance beyond the corporation.

Mr. Cameron is a hands-on father.

Pragmatism . . . a practical and value-oriented sensibilities, and the ability to serve as effective stewards of both today’s organizations and tomorrow’s world.

“He’s more pragmatic than ideological,” Mr. Snowdon said. “He’s not a strong-conviction politician the way Margaret Thatcher was. In many ways, he’s an old-fashioned conservative with a small c. He was brought up in rural England and he considers things like family life and the state of the British union very important.”

I’ve argued that the perspectives frequently shared by members of Generation X are well suited to the type of leadership and the nature of the challenges our organizations face — that the difficult elements from their past have shaped Gen X’ers with the specific capabilities needed in companies today.

We will see.

Certainly watching Mr. Cameron’s approach to tackling the complex and difficult problems his country faces will be an important lesson in leadership.

I wish him great success.

See the original post here, by Tammy Erickson @ Harvard Business Publishing