A Millennial’s Advice for Us Geezers: Stop Griping and Start Empowering

Don Tennant
Slide Show

The CIO-Millennial Divide: Struggling to Keep Up with Younger Workers' Tech Support Expectations

Last month, I wrote a post about Aaron McDaniel, a remarkably accomplished member of the millennial generation, who offered some advice to his fellow millennials: If you want to succeed in your chosen career field, especially if you’re pursuing a career in technology, lose that attitude of entitlement and focus on being a team player. It turns out McDaniel has some advice for us geezers, too: Stop dictating to millennials and start empowering them by leveraging the way they work.

McDaniel is senior director of global strategy and business development at AT&T (one of the youngest people ever to serve as a regional vice president at the company), and author of the book, “The Young Professional’s Guide to the Working World: Savvy Strategies to Get In, Get Ahead, and Rise to the Top.” I asked him what he thinks is the single biggest misconception that older generations have about millennials entering the work force, and he said it has to do with our lack of understanding of millennials’ natural proclivity towards work-life integration:

[Older generations] associate the way that millennials act and spend their time with engagement. In high school, on a typical evening I would be sitting on my bed with my computer out, with some books out, with a phone out talking with and messaging my friends, with music running in the background. And my Dad’s inclination was to say, ‘This kid is just screwing around.’ But in reality, that was how I was doing my work. I was leveraging my peers and asking them questions, and keeping entertained with the music, and all of that. So the method with which we do it may be different, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not engaged. It used to be all about ‘work-life balance.’ Now it’s all about ‘work-life integration.’ I put in more than the expected time doing my work for AT&T, but I do it on my own terms.

I asked McDaniel what advice he has for those of us in the older generations, and he said we need to find ways to leverage the way millennials work rather than gripe about it:

Instead of complaining about some of the issues millennials have, find ways to leverage them. There are a lot of great things about millennials — there’s an inherent energy that we have, there’s a creativity, there’s an ability to think of new ways in which to do things. So if IT leaders can help leverage these strengths, and help empower these young employees, you’re going to get a whole lot more out of them than if you simply put on restrictions and dictate things down to them.

If I’m giving you the impression that McDaniel doesn’t appreciate the value of what we in the older generations bring to the table, let me assure you that that’s not the case at all. Interestingly, he’s launched a site called TheSparkSource.com that aims to reinvent career mentorship by providing a way for millennials to tap into the communal knowledge of their peers. But he’s clear that the site aims to complement traditional mentorship, not replace it:

That’s why I say in my book that we need both. This is just a big piece that’s missing. … Generally when we think about mentoring, we think about that older person, 20 or 30 years older than us, and they’ve accomplished everything. While they can offer some free advice and some great connections, they’re disconnected from what it’s like to be a young person just entering the workforce. I think it’s important for us to leverage each other. The real key lynchpin here is anonymity. Right now, the mechanisms we have are corporate social networks. My company, AT&T, has one, but every time I go into it I have to click and acknowledge that I understand the social media rules, which makes me understand that they’re probably monitoring what I’m doing. Or I can go on Facebook. But I don’t want to explain to the world that I hate my boss, or that I don’t know how to do my job, and I need help. What TheSparkSource.com will do is provide a forum for people to anonymously say, “Here are the issues I have,” and they get responses back, and there’s a rating system that recognizes people as good advice givers. … This gives you advice when you need it, maybe in the middle of the night, or when you have a deadline coming up. So it really offers not only anonymity, but that anytime, anywhere, when-you-need-it mentality.



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