When twentysomething Francesco Marconi, a strategist at the Associated Press, started a diary to help him reflect on his successes and failures in the workplace, he had no idea it would eventually become a viral hit inspiring young professionals around the world. His diary-turned-professional playbook, Frankly Speaking, garnered 110,000 views after it was published on Medium.
"Most of career advice books are written by people at the apex of their careers, who are light-years removed from their early days at the company," Marconi said. "So I decided to take a stab at writing a success story in real time from the perspective of someone just starting the journey."
The result is a playful article series with illustrated anecdotes and pointers on communication, creativity, and management. But the greatest takeaway from Frankly Speaking may be what its reception can tell us about the next generation of leaders in the workplace.
1. They will be less diplomatic, more proactive.
Much has been made of Millennials' search for meaning in their work. You might even call this the "why" drive--the ubiquitous question for Gen Y is not "What do you do?" but "Why do you do it?" For young professionals like Marconi, the answer is more than a job title.
Few pundits have pondered what this looks like in practice, however. Because Millennials have more at stake in their job than a paycheck, they will explore new solutions even if they are perceived as controversial. They will bring new energy to business, government, and education, and they will fight for change even if it requires them to be more direct and less diplomatic.
2. They want to be unique.
In an increasingly overqualified work force, young professionals are compelled to differentiate themselves to stand out. This impulse is not to be confused with selfishness or self-absorption; creativity is currency for Gen Yers, and the leaders who emerge will be driven by their individuality. But as Marconi points out, sometimes achieving a unique identity is more about saying no than saying yes.
The next generation of leaders will be very selective of the projects they decide to get involved with. They will have learned to resist FOMO (the fear of missing out) and will choose quality over quantity of experiences.
3. They will know how to tell stories.
For Frankly Speaking, Marconi spent as much time researching how to deliver his message as he did writing the material itself. He worked weekends with a colleague, designer Mike Bowser, to develop a lively storytelling mechanism that speaks on two levels: in actual written content and in its design.
Regardless of their industry, the next generation of leaders will rely on storytelling to move their agendas forward. With so much competing for the average consumer's attention, media mavens know they are not fighting ignorance. They are fighting lack of interest--and telling stories about why people should care about X or Y is the only way to win.
4. Collaboration will be in their DNA.
Remember how Millennials look for meaning in their work? They also "hunt for connections" they share with their peers, Marconi says. In Frankly, he argues that the most powerful way to develop meaningful relationships with colleagues is to explore what we have in common. This kind of rapport goes beyond traditional definitions of workplace collaboration, producing a generation of leaders with a sixth sense for understanding what drives and motivates others. Ultimately, this skill will enable more openness and collaboration at work.
5. Inspiration will be their measure of success.
Marconi explains that "acknowledging forward," or giving coworkers their due credit (and then some), is extremely valuable in driving individual performance. But empty praise is no panacea. Having grown up in the age of global connectivity, where they can see the scope of problems but also the small changes that contribute to the solutions, Millennials respond best to encouragement that situates their hard work within a larger universe of positive change. Inspiration at work goes hand in hand with creativity and meaningfulness for these up-and-coming visionaries.
As companies turn over and Millennials rise to the top, their generational idiosyncrasies will transform the way businesses are run, stories are told and countries are governed. The popularity of career guides like Frankly Speaking suggests questions about this coming change: With Millennials at the helm, can we look forward to a more collaborative workplace? To corporate environments defined less by politics than by purpose? To a more empathetic society?
Time will tell.