Let Millennials and Gen Z Do Their Thing

By Thought Leaders Archives
Cover image for  article: Let Millennials and Gen Z Do Their Thing

The next leaders of the behemoth, multi-national corporations we have built and led will be the Millennials.  The next massive wave of single-problem-focused start-ups will be fueled by Millennials and Gen Z open-minded, risk-taking magnets.  Their naive, uncluttered, untarnished minds coupled with their energy and ability to focus without baggage makes this generation so massively valuable to the world economy which we will come to know.  So, I’m really confused when I hear people, sometimes current leaders, put these generations down.  It is simply because they don’t understand Millennials and Gen Z and sometimes just fail to try to do so.

While Chairman and CEO of the world’s largest holding company of global marketing services agencies, I realized, now almost a decade ago, that our clients were getting younger and our workforce was similarly becoming younger.  That’s when I learned the term “Millennial.”  Even then, you could hear some people ridiculing this “frivolous, entitled generation.”  The trophy winners who lost games.  But this incredibly negative characterization did not hunt for me.  It was not what I had been experiencing when inviting members of our Millennial workforce into our business strategy sessions.  They brought crisp, relevant and forward-looking points of view to our strategy sessions.  They were confident.  Articulate.  With an attitude of casualness, yet laser-focused.

I have always said that in our business, we need to look like and understand our clients and their ultimate consumers.  How better to understand our younger clients and the young consumer than with young consuming employees who work in your companies?  Like seeks like -- it is the simplest of scientific principles.

To gain a firsthand understanding of this mostly misunderstood generation, I decided to initiate a program called Reciprocal Mentorship.  Remember, this was about ten years ago.  Identifying one of the Millennials who I invited into strategy sessions, I offered to mentor him if he would mentor me.  “What can I possibly teach you?” he said.  My reflexive answer was, ”you can teach me about your generation.”

This initiative proved to be a great success.  My newly acquired, from-the-source understanding of this generation made me a more relevant and more curious leader.  It gave our company “street cred” with Millennials and it opened our minds to the needs and purchasing trends of our younger consumers along with the specific leadership needs of this younger member of our workforce.  Understanding this was -- and is -- crucial, because these generations are so importantly different from our generation and our needs.

Anyone who doesn’t respect these differences operates at a disadvantage today.  And today, when I continue to hear people express these hackneyed viewpoints about this young generation, it just makes me understand how out-of-touch some people, including leaders, can be.

This is not an entitled generation.  It is one that is really comfortable in its skin.  Secure with self.  Happy and not mired down with the past but living in the present and for tomorrow.  A tomorrow that they are all too eager to help collaboratively build.  We might wish to be more like them.

I enjoy mentoring Millennial and Gen Z entrepreneurs.  A decade ago, I wrote Instinct: Tapping Your Entrepreneurial DNA to Achieve Your Business Goals.  It was my attempt as a cell biologist and physiologist turned corporate CEO to answer the age-old question, “Is success a function of nature or nurture?”  I suggested through my interviews with the then well-recognized CEOs of industry that it is neither.  It simply is “nature seeks nurture.”  All too often, it is a life “punctuation point,” like Steve Jobs sitting in a college design course that incites one to think and do great things in his or her life.  To do things differently.  Today, if I were to update Instinct, I would have the pleasure of re-proving my success theory by interviewing some of the many young, new, focused, energetic, purposeful Millennial and Gen Z entrepreneurs who are simply trying to make our world and theirs a better place by solving some of the problems we have handed them.

So, let’s give this generation the respect, the latitude, the runway that we wanted when we were their age!  They are here.  Let’s give them everything that we can to allow them to succeed on their terms, just as we have done.

Photo credit: Hermes Rivera/Unsplash

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