For the past few years, there has been this great debate between older generations and younger generations--specifically Baby Boomers and Millennials, with Generation X caught somewhere in the middle. As technology has made huge strides and changed the landscape of business at large, Baby Boomers have been faced with the challenge of adopting, while digital natives like Millennials have been faced the challenge of slow-moving industries and "the old way of doing things."
However, as a Baby Boomer myself, I believe it's our job to do what we can to help Millennials be put in positions to succeed. As much as we insightfully instruct young entrepreneurs to "know what they don't know," we too should heed our own advice. I'll be the first to admit there are things I don't know about some of today's technologies or trendy applications--and looking to a young person for guidance would behoove me.
I also believe I've learned a thing or two in my years as an entrepreneur, and I can be a value resource for those beginning their journey. Here are 5 things I suggest older generations can do to help make the Millennial generation of entrepreneurs more successful:
1. Support their dedicated interests outside of formal education.
It can be difficult for older generations and those that climbed the conventional business ladder to be supportive of today's more entrepreneurial Millennials--specifically when those tendencies lie outside of formal education.
As someone who didn't finish college, I applaud and encourage Millennials to get their education wherever they can get it. To be clear, I'm not advocating against going to college, but these days, if you look around you'll see there is a college epidemic in the United States. A lot of these kids then leave college with a fancy degree from an elite school and, guess what? They can't even find a job in their field of study.
Today's economy rewards the entrepreneurial, the self-starters, the ones who can take an idea and run with it. To overlook that massive shift and to still insist that young people walk the same path as generations prior is a big mistake.
2. Let them learn through failing.
Especially in the workplace, teaching today's hyper-ambitious Millennials requires a bit more hands-on involvement than many are willing to give.
I've noticed that Millennials don't want to be taught in theory--they want to dig their hands in and learn through experience. For many managers and people who have been in leadership positions for many years, the thought of handing the keys over to a young person so quickly is terrifying.
But you have to. And realize that their failures will teach them faster than you ever could.
Now, the key is to create environments and projects that allow them to fail in the safety of the arms of the company (without causing too much damage), but it can be done. And when it is, you'll watch young people do things you never thought they could do.
3. Their ideas are enthusiastic, for good reason.
I remember being a kid, working with my dad at our hardware store and fighting with him tooth-and-nail on every decision. I always thought I had a better way of doing things, and was constantly met with the response, "Things are going just fine. Why do you have to always push the boundaries?"
Today's Millennials are, at the heart of it all, no different than we were when we were young. When you're just starting out, you feel like you have so much to prove. Ideas fly through your brain a million miles a second. You constantly feel like there isn't enough time, and you have to build an empire tomorrow.
This go-getter attitude shouldn't be discouraged. The benefit of age is the gift of patience, and learning that great things take time. But conversely, there is absolutely something to be said about ambition. The two can (and should) work hand-in-hand.
Don't let your patience get in the way of their enthusiasm.
4. Arrogance is confidence unrefined.
I hear older leaders and managers talk about how today's Millennials are arrogant, entitled, etc. That is a very dark lens to look at today's most bullish generation.
Instead, I like to think of those traits as rough stones not yet refined. The potential is absolutely there, they just need a bit of instruction and guidance--and not the kind that sits from afar, and doesn't let them take ownership over a project.
Millennials are hungry to learn, just like the rest of us. Instead of labeling them as arrogant or entitled, look for their potential and help them refine themselves around that quality. Talk to them, one on one, as individuals. Try to understand what drives them, what it is they want in life--and then find ways to help them get there.
Millennials want to be mentored. If you can play that role for them, they will bring so much back to the table.
5. Whatever work you have them do, explain why it matters.
One thing I've noticed in business is that a good many companies and businesses employ dozens and dozens of Millennials, plug them into roles, don't explain what those roles ladder up to, and then remain confused as to why their Millennial employees say, "I don't feel fulfilled when I'm at work."
Fulfillment comes from understand what it is you're truly working toward, long-term, and then enjoying the journey of getting there.
Giving a young person a daily task list isn't going to make them feel very involved. Instead, explain to them why today's tiny tasks matter and what bigger goal they're helping the entire company work toward and achieve. And don't just tell them once during their on-boarding session. Include them on what's happening, check in with them once a week, maybe even daily, and continue to help them see the bigger picture.
Let them see the world from atop your shoulders.