Leadership Caffeine-It’s Time to Get Serious About Learning from Your Twenty-Somethings

A Cup of Leadership CaffeineOne of the recurring themes in my writing and teaching activities is the importance of blending the generations in the workplace. I’ve been a cheerleader for this cause for the past few years and I truly believe that good managers everywhere must find opportunities to leverage the unique perspectives of experience, pragmatism and idealism available from this fascinating mix of time travelers.

I’ve now moved beyond my polite encouragement for managers to find ways to adapt and cope with what seem to be the foreign habits and foreign viewpoints emanating from the more youthful in the workforce. It’s time to get serious about learning and benefitting from this younger generation. What has been treated in the media as a mostly fun topic that describes the foibles of “Helicopter Parents” and the endless flood of childhood “Participation Trophies,” is now a critically important issue and opportunity.

Consider:

  • We now live and work in a networked, always-on and increasingly virtual world For those of us with experience, this is new and exciting, yet in many instances, we struggle to make sense of it, particularly as we seek to develop strategies based on yesterday’s thinking in a world that we no longer recognize.  Alternatively, the generation that is coming of age right now understands this world as their own. They are comfortable in its complexity and “virtualness” and capable of moving and navigating seamlessly through it, focused on their mission and not awestruck by its complexity and speed of change.
  • Experience is a powerful teacher for all of us, and yet, we are tackling tomorrow’s challenges with yesterday’s solutions.  And yes, those that don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it, but we face all new problems that demand newly created solutions using technologies and approaches that have no historical equivalent.
  • From the school of the obvious, in yesterday’s world, you could choose to ignore much of the globe. Alternatively, today’s world is filled with unimaginable perils and nearly infinite possibilities.  Technology brings the people of the world closer together and there is no group of people better prepared to leverage the new tools and work across cultures with others to solve problems, create new offerings and serve customers.  Remember, this young generation plays video games with their friends around the globe, understands how to manage complex social networks in real time from the tips of their thumbs and has grown up in an always-on environment.  Talk about some great training for success!
  • And while I hesitate to offer social commentary, I can’t help but observe after spending a few years in classrooms with both graduate students and undergraduates in several great institutions in Chicago, that the biases and prejudices of our parents and grandparents seem to be melting into the past. One can hope that I’m right in this observation. I see no evidence of the youth that I work with caring about color or creed.  It is my observation that they care about people and each other and evaluate each other on merits and insights and skills. This is as it should be.

Challenges and Opportunities:

  • We are running today’s business and dealing with tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s management approaches.  The science and art of management must advance to both cope with the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities of this new world.  As a side-note, ask a twenty-something to design the style of organization that will work best in this emerging world, and I’ll guarantee that it won’t include functional silos.
  • Age and experience count, but those fortunate enough to have both don’t necessarily have all of the right answers. However, with age and experience comes wisdom, and this valuable resource when combined with the fresh perspectives of youth should be a dangerous combination for solving problems and creating opportunities.
  • In my opinion, much of the training that needs to take place is not for the twenty-somethings, but rather for the tremendous number of 30 to 60-somethings that are fearful of or paralyzed by new technologies and new social conventions.  If you are old enough to remember life before e-mail, you are also old enough to have lost your edge in learning to leverage new tools.  I’ve written this before, but if you don’t know what twitter is, don’t read or write blogs, think social networking is a cocktail party, and have no idea why anyone would play a video game on-line, then you need help.  Stat.

The Bottom Line for Now

It’s time to quit talking about the trophy kids and the oft-repeated stereotypes that are dogging the millennial generation. It’s up to those of us that currently hold the reins of leadership to recognize this opportunity for what it is and to get on with the business of preparing to turn over those reins.  Judging by the condition of things in the world today, this group has arrived just in the nick of time.

Comments

  1. I’m quickly approaching the middle of my twenty-somethings, and I couldn’t agree with you more. The media world moves extremely quickly, and the only way to keep up with it is monitor and at least understand the latest trends, and there’s no better way to condense it all than to learn from a younger person. Not to say that I’m an expert. Even at my fairly young age, I already find myself piggybacking onto the latest forms of social media as a late adopter most of the time! Thanks for the article.

  2. David Reuter says:

    Art,
    I could not agree more with your post. Especially, the idea of trying to tackle tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. It seems that as every new generation comes of age, those from previous generations search for flaws instead of acknowledging innovation. It is no accident that some of our most powerful paradigm shifts are created by young intellectuals that are not trying to fit in a predetermined mold.

  3. Joe Bradshaw says:

    Hey Art,

    Millenial here and I have got to say its nice to see this sort of thinking put to action in the workforce, the younger guys at my work have grown up with modern computer technology and love to use it and spread it to the uninitiated just to make everyone’s life a little simpler. I am beginning to see a the benefit in the way we market to clients in a combination of new school technology and older generation business savvy and it is reaping many rewards. What new idea or technology do you think has made the biggest impact in the last year or so in the industry? To me just being able to create PDFs of plan sets and power point presentations saves a lot of money and time in reproduction plus it makes distribution of ideas really easy.

    keep spreading the good word,
    Joe

  4. Catalin Cociuba says:

    Art,
    I wish that more people would believe what you believe, and see the business environment the way you see it. It will make everyone’s work life more easy, the twenty-something year old workers and the 30-60 year old workers. I couldn’t agree more with your post, not just because I am a twenty-some year old and makes me feel good, but because I have seen it happening in my six long years of work experience.
    Thanks for the good word.
    Catalin

  5. I’m well past being a millenial (my children are, as are a few colleagues) However, I’m constantly inspired by the fresh apparoach, unbridled enthusiasm and candor of the under 30’s. I’ve found the most successful combination for blowing away the cobwebs, and the competition, is an open mind and a partnership of millenials and grey hairs… innovation plus wisdom is a formidable team!
    Any business will achieve greater success by deftly using both elements.

  6. Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.

    http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2010/02/03/2310-midweek-look-at-the-independent-business-blogs.aspx

    Wally Bock

  7. Art,

    Thanks for speaking about the Millennials with respect. As one of the youngest people in my company (except for the interns) I have had some good experiences and some bad. One thing I’ve noticed is that boomers and millennials tend to work very well together, which doesn’t shock me, given that a) our parents are boomers, and they are the ones who raised us with the soccer trophies and the minivans, and b) Boomers love to talk about themselves and their path, to mentor younger folks – but only after a while working.

    So far most of my generational conflicts have been with Gen Xers, but I can’t blame them. They’ve been clawing their way to the top, and suddenly everything changed!

    Rebecca

    • Art Petty says:

      Rebecca, great observation. The feedback that I have received and the research that I have reviewed supports your point. There appears to be a strong alignment of values and workplace/work desires between millennals and boomers. The X’ers are caught in the middle. Thanks for reading and for sharing! -Art

  8. As a Baby Boomer, I also agree with your perspective. I wrote in one of my previous blog posts “Why is it a lot of search results I find imply that it’s the Millennials who need managing? Why not Millennials managing other generations? Just a thought.”
    (Full post at http://blog.springboardtraining.com/?p=89)

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