Though an old-ish dog, I’m still learning new tricks. A sensitive but competitive guy, I work hard to win big, and I don’t easily concede defeat to anyone, let alone colleagues 20 to 25 years my junior.
But over the past few months, I’ve decided to become a strategic listener. I know when this dog needs to hear new ideas and master some new skills.
One thing I’ve learned: Contrary to trend data, Gen Y (also known as millennials) is not a slacker generation; they may leave work at the stroke of 5:00 for their SoulCycle or CrossFit class, and yes, they’ve been indulged by parents like me, but these “kids” get the job done.
And they’ll probably get part of their boomer or Gen X boss’s job done, too. Millennials are more flexible than individuals of previous generations, and I don’t mean in the toe-touching sense of the word. Hot yoga classes aside, millennials are efficient and elastic in terms of simultaneously achieving the scope of work and their personal career goals. When it comes to ensuring that the company they’ve either founded or are running stays in the black, Gen Y will bend and pivot in a way that is truly admirable. And profitable.
Some impressive superstars who consistently make business headlines by exceeding their quarterly earnings projections are Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Brian Chesky (Airbnb), Jessica Alba (actor/The Honest Company) and Sean Rad (Tinder). But what about those Gen Yers who are slightly under the radar but still changing the way we do business? Maybe these digital natives aren’t revolutionizing their industries, but they are doing some illustrious surgical tweaking.
I decided to ferret around and unearth some of these millennial executives who I believe can offer tips for us Y2K veterans. Borrowing from best-selling author and strategic advisor Ian Altman, I’ve aligned these tips with the “big 3” attributes he says are essential for successful leadership in the information age: diversity, empathy and innovation.
- New Trick 1: Make sure your team reflects differences in knowledge processing, perspective and point-of-view. Boomers were weaned on affirmative action, and Gen Xers bandy about the word diversity as if it’s an HR given. But I would argue that in the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s, the term “diversity” encompassed age, gender and race, not cognitive qualities. Just because a team member or leader doesn’t look like us, we can’t assume they think differently from how we do. In other words, your company could comprise white men who, visually, look similar but in reality have had extremely dissimilar backgrounds and life experiences – socio-economically, religiously and geographically.How a team interprets and applies this life knowledge, and how team members express their own opinion or approach a problem, is significant to the successful alchemy of a 21st company.As the boundaries between the global economy and its workforce become more contiguous, a design-thinking hive-mind of data scientists, writers, engineers and brand strategists are augmenting what we mean by diversity.A good example is found at ad agency DNA, where one millennial staffer came up with a workflow solution to a perplexing obstacle the agency needed to overcome with an otherwise compelling marketing project for an insurance client. The interactive producer, Ash Fell, used his techno-savvy to deliver a compelling wow for the client, the ad agency and for Seattle Seahawks football fans.
- New Trick 2: Create emotional stickiness. Though it seems obvious, don’t forget the “you” in relationship-building. Google the phrase importance of learning and see how many articles pop up, many published in the last month. Continuing to acquire and apply knowledge is not only good for brain health and career advancement; it’s also vital for cultivating an appreciation for how others process information. Thomas Friedman stressed this in a recent New York Times op-ed in which he explored the power of knowledge and the importance of maintaining the ability to analyze, prophesize and optimize.And I would add: our ability to empathize. How we treat others and, accordingly, how we envision the world for future generations is our human responsibility. Fueling the body and the mind with clean products is the goal behind Sakara Life and its energetic founders Danielle DuBoise and Whitney Tingle, both age 30. “We believe everyone has the right to feel their absolute best, love themselves and others to the fullest, and live their dream life,” their site declares. Key mantras are devoted to how food and exercise make you, and those around you, feel better and, hopefully, behave better. This ability to project compassion and create intimacy between users and a brand is pure genius.
- New Trick 3: Stay up to date. If there’s a solid familial business in place, keep it relevant.The most exciting aspect of innovation I’m seeing worldwide is its application to non-tech fields: beauty (Birchbox), food (Blue Apron), and education (Blackboard), among many others. A standout in the fashion world is PrettyLittleThing (PLT), founded by brothers Umar and Adam Kamani, the sons of Mahmud Kamani, who co-founded British darling Boohoo. Leveraging the business acumen of their father, PLT is expanding Boohoo’s hold on the women’s fashion category by selling a stake in the company to Boohoo.This is a brilliant example of a perfect Boomer-Gen X-Gen Y partnership. PLT is using Boohoo, the host parent company, as an innovative brand-building platform for its digital intuitiveness. The result? An online retail conglomerate with a targeted brick-and-mortar/pop-up presence.
We’re living, and thriving, in fast times. Automation, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and the good old-fashioned Internet are accelerating the way we do business. But the puppies among us have grown up with high-speed WiFi, smartphones and social media. They are adaptive, and many of these millennial business leaders have learned how to pace themselves. We need to do the same.