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6 Tips to Succeed in Business for Millennials (from a Millennial)

In short: If I assumed that being young made me better, I'd be a significantly worse older person.
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The definition of millennial is tough--but can be narrowed down by some to those who were born from 1980 to 2000. Millennials are the new hot "trend" to discuss as they age into the working world, with (at times) vastly different expectations of their working requirements than their (older) bosses. They expect special treatment. They expect instant access to the CEO. In a presentation at my client GuideSpark's conference, DoubleForte CEO Lee McEnany spoke about said expectations and how to manage them. At one point she said "Millennials want to do things their way--let them." In short: They're entitled. Work with that.

As a millennial on the edge of the definition (a 28-year-old), I think she's missed one part. The biggest reason that millennials feel entitled and expect rewards for showing up is the romanticization of the youthful entrepreneur and worker. Mark Zuckerberg has perpetuated the romance of youth by saying, "I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter." It wasn't that he was young--he was smart (a Harvard undergraduate), a great coder and had the right people around him. The catalysts were talent, luck and working with the right people. Those compadres, I might add, included Peter Thiel, who was 38 when he made the $500,000 seed investment in the 19-year-old Zuckerberg's company and joined its board board. It was exuberance of youth augmented by the experience of an elder person.

Millennials are seeing the tale repeatedly told of successful young CEOs and media coverage of "millennial trends." How could they not feel like they're special? Gen-Xers weren't treated as a (positive) special entity. We're being told we're super special with a special name.

Sadly, the real world (mostly) isn't easy, comfortable or cushy. It's hard. Your youth doesn't automatically make you the next Zuckerberg or "the future." Here are six tips when it comes to preparing for it:

1. "Promise" is irrelevant. Execution is king.

I'm sure you're a wonderful person. Possibly a really great listener. Perhaps you went to college. Perhaps you were in a club. Cool! Great. Irrelevant. You've got a "promising" resumé. But if you expect to be rewarded and lauded upon because you exist, you'll suffer. Executing and delivering--even (heck, especially) when you don't want to do something--is part of the working world.

2. (True) respect is earned.

There're definitely times when you'll have a bad boss, or a manager that you disagree with. You'll probably even times when you are correct when you disagree with the lousy bosses. McEnany's presentation included a slide on millennials demanding to know every reason for every thing. While there is some value in knowing at least a little context, demanding your boss explains every part of every task exhaustively is a time-waster. You go to a job to work. If it's a task you can do more efficiently, offer that up as a possibility. But don't argue with every step the moment you arrive.

3. Don't expect special treatment.

Need to leave at 2 p.m.? Check with the boss first. Don't assume that--because some companies do--yours will. They may. They may not. It's not "unfair" if they won't. You are paid to be at a job and do work. That's what a job is. Furthermore, if your office has work-from-home hours, stick to them, and never assume that you'll 'be okay' without checking in. You're paid--and that means you're worthy of working--but not owed anything other than what they tell you on paper.

4. Your youth doesn't make you smarter.

Some young people think that the young perspective automatically means that they are more "in-the-know" than their elders. Sure, you may understand your age group very well, but your boss might, too. Don't assume that every decision they make against you is one of being stuck in the past. Yes, there are people stuck in their ways. But until you have consistent, verifiable proof to the contrary, assume someone higher than you in an organization is there for a reason.

5. Older people are one of the best sources of knowledge. 

I admit--there have been people older than me who knew less, and who weren't as good as me. If I assumed that by default, I'd have missed out on amazing advice, mentorship and most of my clients. My grandfather, the signpainter Ken Dibley, taught me a great deal as a boy about friendship, respect and being a reliable, hardworking person--to the point that he painted signs for decades and is still remembered to this day (page 9). My father, a management consultant, was the CEO of a housing association at 24--and got there through good work over arguing repeatedly with (much) older people. He's the one that taught me many incredibly useful lessons--like not to lie in the workplace, to be diplomatic, to work hard and never assume you're the smartest person in the room. He sold his own consultancy for around $70 million in 2003.

6. Same goes for older managers, too.

Oh yes, and my first manager--Jeff Lovari--was older, more senior, and I was an upstart, over-confident person in my early 20s. Resisting the urge to argue with him at every sentence because "I knew the media" is the reason I'm good at pitching reporters today.

In short: If I assumed that being young made me better, I'd be a significantly worse older person.

Last updated: Jul 3, 2014




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