In my previous TechCrunch article you learned that I’m a big fan of the millennial generation. A really big fan. So much so, and as a result of the article, I’ve been informed by several individuals (both publicly and privately) that I am a millennial trapped in a GenX body.
I’ll take that.
That’s because I find a millennial’s way of thinking and discovery, their non-acceptance of poor management and their demand for communication, clarity and understanding … refreshing.
But, as many also pointed out, there are two sides to the millennial versus non-millennial conversation.
It can’t only be about an experienced workforce acquiescing proven management principles in an effort to mollycoddle (direct quote) a very talented, but as of yet inexperienced, generation.
So millennials, listen up. Fair is fair. Now it’s your turn.
Here are some tricks you can learn from us old dogs that will help you create the work culture you (and we) desire.
The Wheels On The Bus Hurt More Than Those Who Are Under Them
I remember a particular time in my career when I was feeling unbelievably confident. It was right after back-to-back quarters of record-setting sales. I felt unstoppable and on top of the world. Then a directive came down from corporate that I absolutely disagreed with. I’m telling you they couldn’t have missed the mark more if they had tried. Or so I thought.
They were old, out-of-touch and clearly hadn’t thought this through. Sound familiar?
So, like any self-respecting, success-driven, ladder-climbing GenXer should do, I fired off an email to corporate and informed them of their shortsightedness. No punches or people were held back. No stone was left unturned.
A lesser leader would have, and probably should have, fired me on the spot.
Yet my leader, who himself was a Boomer trying to figure out how to assimilate this new GenXer into his organization, calmly pulled me aside and said, “Some of your points were right and should have been heard. Some of your points were misinformed and better left unsaid. If you had asked, I would have shared some information with you. Today, you hurt yourself just as much as the people you threw under the bus.”
He was right.
The discussion of millennials versus non-millennials is probably less about generational differences than about generational miscommunication.
Millennials, seek to be understood. Categorically, you know I believe we need to do a better job at understanding you. But, in return, you also need to seek understanding from those with more experience than you. It’s a two-way street.
Remember, understanding isn’t acceptance or agreement. But it’s the best way to make the most informed and most successful decisions.
No Individual Is Self-Made
As a young sales representative, I remember watching in admiration a more senior sales professional. Think of a sales record; she had broken it. Think of a name-brand company; she had closed them. Imagine the biggest of big commission checks; she had cashed them.
To top it all off, everybody liked her. That’s because she was always sending thank you notes and gift baskets and, on occasion, sending people on weekend trips as a way of thanking them for their help.
At the time, it didn’t make sense to me. She did her job. They did theirs. If they wanted the big commission checks and the trappings that went a long with them, they should become a sales professional.
I asked her about it one day, and I’ll never forget the conversation. She told me that no individual was ever self-made. There were engineers who designed the product; manufacturers who built the product; warehouses that stored and shipped the product; and the litany of professionals who installed, provided training and supported the product.
Take those away, and she didn’t have anything to sell.
She didn’t feel it hurt to say thanks and share some of her rewards with the people who made her job easier. She never felt it took away from her status. In hindsight, I think it actually added to her status.
I hope millennials reading this learn the same thing I learned that day: In the quest for achievement and advancement, no person is self-made.
Just as you want to be recognized, remember that you’ll get further in your career by recognizing, thanking and acknowledging others for their assistance than if you keep the recognition all to yourself.
We’re Not As Clueless As You Think
I have two neighbors down the street who are in their mid-seventies. One I pestered into signing up for Gmail; the other I hounded until he got a smartphone. Each had spent his career in education — one at the elementary level, the other at the collegiate level.
Honestly, it’s not possible to be more different when it comes to generational, educational and professional pursuits. Yet both are mentors to me.
It’s true, they don’t understand — and frankly can’t relate to — what I’m going through, or have been through. But there isn’t a challenge I’ve faced, or a question I’ve had, where they didn’t have some insight that was beneficial for me to consider.
Even if it were just to say, “Yeah, I did some pretty dumb things in my career as well. Hang in there, it will pass.”
Millennials, you’re smart and can contribute much better than we could at your age. But, don’t forget that experience brings with it the wisdom you may not have developed yet.
You’ll get there — but the quickest path to wisdom isn’t to “throw shade” on the old guard completely. Just the parts that don’t make sense.
Really, as some have pointed out, the discussion of millennials versus non-millennials is probably less about generational differences than about the generational miscommunication going on right now.
Just remember: To be a good leader, you also have to know how to be a good follower.