So you know your author, I am Gen X.
A first-generation son of a hard-drinking, bad-ass, blue-collar father and an aspirational, vivacious, loving mother of four. Both driven, dedicated, and wildly charismatic, neither with a clue as to how to deal with the idea of “art” as a career.
I’ve never been coddled or pulled favors, and found my way through my career never having had the road paved for me. I’ve slept in streets, lived out of a ’65 Mustang to afford art school where I taught myself to use a Mac, and created my own course with the singular goal of “making album covers” – a decision made while laying in a hospital bed for the better part of my 14th summer.
I bore you with that to understand I know hard work and I have as strong a distaste for self-entitled, self-important, lazy, spoiled individuals as the next person…but I have a bit of news for you – these characteristics do not discriminate for age or gender.
I, like many, have worked for, and alongside, some real gems – narcissistic, self-absorbed, delusional bullies of all ages.
You’d think, being older we would know better. Yet, more and more recently I’ve heard the Millennial-bashing crescendo, coupled by aggressive comebacks by sharp-tongued Millennials with reason. You don’t build great leaders by tearing individuals down.
As 80 million Millennials in the U.S. begin to take center stage, we in the publishing and advertising business need to magnify their strengths. We need to leverage their insight, energy, experience, and perspectives instead of getting into a dither about negative stereotypes.
Here, leadership is key. Leadership because it’s a simple truth that you can never be, alone, that which you can be with a group of people who work to support each other. We are all in this together.
To that point, Millennials are the most dynamic, collaborative, diverse, and inclusive group of young people to date.
Google “Millennials In The Workplace” and you get this. Look, I know it’s a joke, but it’s funny because it’s true, right? Well, I, for one, am tired of catching a laugh at the expense of the generation we created.
Lazy? I’m surrounded by the most impressive group of Millennials who not only do not match touted stereotypes, but also take the criticism in stride.
What do I see in the young leaders of our industry around me that I see less of in Gen X?
- They’ve grown up connected. While Gen X complains that there was a time when you could “get away from work,” Gen Y is right there, 24/7, paying no difference between the hours of nine to five and five to nine. While being present will always be of utmost importance, this generation does not necessarily lose momentum when they step away from “the desk.” Honestly, we should consider the affects of attrition and motivation more so than worrying about where the work gets done.
- They are social. Millennials not only understand how to motivate audience bases, they themselves do this on a daily basis. They are the influencers, sharing and advocating brands whose core values they connect with, their products and events. Not only that, they know what an effective share looks like, feels like, sounds like. They’re extremely savvy.
- They’re creative! I’m constantly inspired by the energy this generation puts into creating content. They’re great photographers, writers, stylists, designers, editors, and motivators. I remember hearing “Now everyone thinks they’re a designer because they have a Mac (1992).” With the greatest technology at their fingertips, unhindered by operation, they’re freed to communicate their vision in a manner unprecedented.
- They know technology. They’ve been raised alongside it and their children are being raised by it.
- They’re collaborative. A wildly more diverse group of people than ever before, Millennials constantly pull from a greater pool of experiences, perspectives, and insights than our generation ever had the fortune to. This more readily allows them the opportunity to tap into a broader view for what’s possible.
- They’re astute. They can smell a contrived marketing idea a mile away. With mass amounts of advertising forced down their throats all their developing years, they know the difference between lazy advertising and marketing that connects in a meaningful way.
- They’re resilient. They’re adaptive and prepared for change. While you hold on to your perspective for dear life, Millennials are open and lithe.
- They’re leaders. They’re ready and willing to take command. They’re brave. And, while we all need direction, they’re the future. Period.
Now, all this is not to say they’re perfect. But, this is where our leadership counts.
- Are they arrogant? Perhaps arrogant is too strong a word, but sure. Sometimes. A little. However, youth is confident. And that confidence is exciting. Applaud a well-directed expression of this energy. Give them something to care for and encourage them to see their self in other people. Take time to explain your motivation and the reasons for the actions. It’s your job as a mentor to do what you can to develop considerate, reflective, and positively charged traits in tomorrow’s leaders. No one comes pre-assembled amazing. Most of the time, it’s nurtured.
- Are they distracted? Yes! Aren’t you? Hell, we experience stimulation unparalleled by any time before us. Find out what charges your people and tap into their passion, because no one creates better work than when they’re doing what they love. Focus comes from ownership and inclusion.
- Are they loyal? Well, that’s really up to you. Create a culture that your group can proudly point to. Define what you stand for and attract those who are willing to carry that flag. Espouse those values, support your people, appreciate them, and acknowledge their work. Remember, you are nothing without them and they are a direct representation of you. Before you get upset worrying that they’re heading out the door for something better, lead them.
And, finally, a quick note to Millennials that I find myself expressing time and time again to Boomers, Xers, and Yers alike; don’t disregard the work done to set the stage for you to work from. Nothing happens in a vacuum, especially in this day and age. Your new energy and vision doesn’t make you superior, because no matter how brilliant you think you are, you’re a part of a system. Great leaders acknowledge work done, point to their vision, and then do everything they can to charge their team to move forward with them.
As publishers, marketers, and advertisers, we are in the business of motivating audiences to take action. Hopefully for most of us, we’re in the business of doing this by creating impactful, positive experiences that charge and excite people to move. You don’t move people by pointing fingers. Holistic, collaborative leadership is key.
Millennials embody an exhilarating amount of energy. You can’t inspire people if you’re not inspired yourself, and speaking for myself, this generation amazes me. I only hope they remember their responsibility to the one that follows them.
Image on home page via Shutterstock.