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Business Coach Anne Loehr Tries to Bridge Diverse Generations: X, Y, Baby Boomer

The collective fretting over Generation Y -- also known as the millennials -- has turned into an industry for entrepreneurs such as Loehr: The former Kenyan hotel executive, based in Reston, is a "leadership coach" and generational guru, one of several who market themselves to corporations, the military, and federal and local governments as anthropologists interpreting today's 70 million to 80 million 20-somethings or early 30-somethings -- those who came of age with the kiddie dinosaur show "Barney," high-speed wireless Internet and Barack Obama.

Cultural markers such as these have become a useful shorthand that Loehr and her colleagues use to explain assumptions about this emerging generation -- their lefty politics, their belief in gaining consensus before taking action, their sense of self-entitlement, their short attention spans. For older bosses feeling resentment and a sense of superiority, such categorizations can be a balm.

With a Web site and blog, one book published and another in the works, an e-mail newsletter, a graduate student helping her with research, corporate seminars and one-on-one sessions that go for $500 to $2,500, Loehr is quite specific about her ambition: "I want to touch 500,000 lives this year. I am going to touch 500,000 lives this year. I do have spreadsheets that mark how many people I am touching."

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Back at the Tower Club, the "Get Wise with Gen Ys" session is heating up. Many executives came to the event because they don't understand their younger employees. Rob Graveline, 38 (Gen X), who owns a gym, thinks his younger staffers don't have the same work ethic as his generation. He admits he treats his youngest workers differently.

Loehr spells out her theories on what distinguishes this generation from the previous one. "They saw 9/11," she says. "Connection is vital, they want to be connected all the time. People say, 'Why are they on Facebook all the time? Why are they texting?' They really want balance, too. They saw their parents go crazy in Generation X. They are not having that lifestyle. They are going to do it their way. They're going to go to yoga at 4, and the Red Sox game at 7, and do their work at midnight. It might be a good idea to let them go to yoga at 4!"

Someone mentions Gen Y's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Loehr agrees there is a serious, socially conscious side to the generation: "They really value making a difference. If you can say you are 'green,' or politically correct or socially correct, whatever, that goes a long way with them. Nike, no way. Gen Y will not buy Nike -- that big, ugly globalized company. This generation is very well-educated -- both parents probably have MBAs."

The class nods. Charlene Perry, 55 (boomer), assistant vice president at an M&T Bank in Vienna, wonders earnestly: "Did they spend a lot of time outside as children? Sitting at a computer?"

Loehr has a spiel at the ready: "Or being shuttled to soccer at 9, and the play at 12. You know, the nanny took them. This is actually a very disciplined generation. They can actually get a lot done. They can be very loyal to a company as long as that company is politically correct."

Xiaoyuan "Wennie" Hanson, 29 (Gen X/millennial), a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley, looks puzzled. She came to the seminar because many of her clients are "trust-fund babies who are Generation Y," she says, and she is slowly beginning to use words like "cool" and "sucks" to make better inroads with them. Now, she has a question about the young generation's role in recent current events.

"So, who's at fault for last fall's economic fall?" Hanson asks.

Loehr resists placing blame: "In my rule, there's no fault."

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