We love the mindset of millennial – the energy, the tech savvy, and the community-mindedness are all assets that can invigorate a workplace and provide fresh perspective. Many millennials have leadership career goals. But one of the challenges for millennials in the workplace (and their managers) is that much of their world is instant – instant information, quick shipping of goods, and ready availability of personal credit. Millennials know what they want, and they want it now. Their parents were often dual-income households, and so these “kids” have grown used to getting it – the new toy, the new outfit, the great vacation, etc. That instant gratification mindset leads to frustration in the workplace. So if you’re a millennial, or you care about one, read on.
Here’s how you become a leader – for real
“Pay me $100,000 and I’ll really show you what I can do!” Dream on, young leader. It doesn’t work that way. Unfortunately for you and for all of us, leadership comes first and then the rewards, regardless of educational credentials or the handsomeness of the face. Packaging can play a strong supporting role here, but in the kind of company you want to work for, performance comes first. And in the case of leadership, effective leadership of self is the precursor to the opportunity for leadership of others.
Let’s say, though, that you’re an emerging leader with a lot of potential. You know you are capable of a greater contribution than your current role gives you the room to make. You want to climb to the next level of authority in your company, and it’s not happening fast enough to satisfy you. You might have to push the door open.
The crack in the door
Unless your direct manager is a complete autocrat and wants to define every moment and prescribe every action by every staff member, there’s probably a crack in the door. There is likely an area of his or her job that your boss doesn’t like, or that he or she doesn’t have time to pay complete attention to. Or perhaps your boss is trying to implement change and improvement in your company, and there are projects that aren’t moving as fast as they would like. Each of these scenarios creates the small opening for you – the crack in the door – to demonstrate leadership, and to pave the way for learning and ultimately broader career opportunity
When you see the crack in the door it’s your job to push it open – gently. Your boss will probably not do it for you and invite you in. Part of leadership is identifying the opportunity yourself and stepping up to get involved. Fair warning: it’s probably not to your advantage to leap through the doorway, slamming it against the wall in the process. You might break something. The world hasn’t been awaiting your hallowed presence, ready to bow down when you drop into it. But you step into the doorway and create the opportunity to earn your way into the room
The knowledge and experience gap
Your educational credentials and your experiences so far might not have fully prepared you for the next challenge. Your job is to learn what you need to know, wherever and however you need to learn it. Find a class, find a website, recruit a mentor, buy coffee for an expert. It’s often the most knowledgeable individual who earns the opportunity. Don’t wait for someone to tell you that you need to expand your knowledge base – choose it on your own. Initiate and perpetuate your personal and professional self-improvement process
Millennial leaders and people skills
You have seen it – the sigh, the eye roll, the exasperation of the all-knowing individual who can’t believe that another person would ask such a “stupid” question. You have seen the person who throws others under the bus thinking it might advance their career. You have observed the individual who doesn’t make time for building relationships. If you behave like this person you will have a tough time claiming your leadership space. You don’t have to know everything, especially not if you know the people who know, and it especially helps if you have invested in creating relationships that enable you to tap into their expertise
A full 80% of the reason why leaders fail is their inability to get along with other people As you move away from the front lines and closer to the executive suite your people-effectiveness will become 50%, 60%, and ultimately 90% of your job. You might be able to learn it by observing other leaders, but beware: your internal role models might not be the best. Many role-modeling discussions go toward negative – “I will NEVER be like my mother!” – and you need to resist the temptation to go there. They don’t help you to define what you want to become, but rather what you don’t want. The good news is that soft skills are like technical knowledge in that they can be developed. Your company might have an existing process for you to expand yours, but even if it doesn’t the resources are out there. (We can help you to identify them if you’d like.)
Commitments and leadership potential
Whenever you make a commitment you are creating the potential for leadership. You demonstrate leadership when you KEEP the commitment. When you have a door-opening opportunity it’s particularly important to do what you said you will do, by the time frame in which you said you will do it. Yes, this is a test. If it’s your first time up to bat in this sort of thing people will be watching you, and they will assume that what you do now will be representative of your future performance. No pressure. (yeah, right). But that’s what happens.
Although you might choose to step up, the door may not be easy to open. If you are in a family business and dad or mom is still the boss it might take time for them to see you as a leader. Remember, they still can picture you at 6 years old with chocolate all over your face and hands. And in addition, even though you’re ready to step in, they might not feel ready to step out. The best thing you can do is to become their right hand reliable ally. If you have the sneaking suspicion that they are starting to feel threatened by seeing you in their rear-view mirror all of the time, it might be appropriate to define a special project or area that is new for the company to explore. Build your own path within the organization where you can stretch your leadership skills
This might not be easy, or as fast as you want, or even a steady climb. There might be detours along the way. But you need to be the one to spot the open door, and then to walk into it. That’s leadership step number one.