Today, I was the keynote speaker for the Albuquerque branch of the Federal Executive Board’s Excellence in Public Service Awards. I was hoping to record my presentation to share with all of you, but wasn’t able to swing it so I’m posting it here for you to read.
Hello and good morning! I’m excited to be here with all of you today and to be a part of your Excellence in Public Service Awards.
I was invited to speak with you all about Millennials and Excellence. Millennials, also referred to as Generation Y, are those born between 1981-2001.
I’d like to begin by sharing a couple of quotes with you.
The first, “They’ve created the greatest age of individualism in American history! All rules are broken! The new alchemical dream is: changing one’s personality—remaking, remodeling, elevating, and polishing one’s very self … and observing, studying, and doting on it”
And the second,
“A generation whose worldview is based on change… in search of human dignity and individual freedom, the need for stability, love, tolerance, and human rights for all… a generation more interested in philosophizing than making something of themselves.”
What’s interesting about these quotes is that they aren’t about Millennials.
The first quote is by Tom Wolfe from his article in Time Magazine in 1976 where he coined the term “Me Generation” in his critical analysis of Baby Boomers, those of you born between 1946 and 1964.
The latter quote is by Professor Christine Henseler, an expert on Generation X, those of you born between 1965 and 1980.
But doesn’t it sound familiar?
With the amount of media attention that has been given to the latest generation of 20 somethings, it is difficult to imagine that that 20 something’s existed previously.
Millennials have been repeatedly labeled as “lazy, narcissistic, self-absorbed, and an entitled generation who is unable to think for themselves with high expectations and a low work ethic”
So this morning I’m here to tell you, “Don’t believe the hype!”
You see every generation suffers from being 20 something. It is quite a spectacular and provocative time in our lives, one where there is a lot of personal growth, exploration, and introspection.
This time in our lives is also known as “emerging adulthood”, characterized by feeling unstable and uncertain, yet optimistic and free. In our twenties it is a time of transition, when we are learning to be an adult and take responsibility for ourself, but this comes with plenty of growing pains.
Similar to Boomers and Gen Xers, Millennials are taking a lot of criticism for those growing pains.
But are Millennials really that different from former generations in their twenties?
In the 70’s Baby Boomers were referred to as “materialistic slackers who cared more about themselves than society”. The 70’s was a time for “self-realization” and “self-fulfillment”.
By the way, I’d like to thank you all you Boomers for meditation, yoga, EST, and the monetization of “self-help”!
And in the 80s, we were led to believe that Generation X, was made up of nothing more than “cynical, hopeless, frustrated and unmotivated slackers”.
And a special thanks to my fellow GenXers for MTV, the rubics cube, grunge music, and mainstreaming tattoos.
Don’t get me wrong, generational differences do exist. Societal changes and world events certainly shape our worldview and values, but Millennials aren’t necessarily criticized for their worldview, but primarily for their inability to be more like us.
So how are millennials different?
Millennials are a very ambitious generation and have mastered the life-work balance.
(don’t mistake this for low work ethic)
They are confident and not afraid to question authority and ask for what they want, which is to be included and involved.
(it’s not entitlement)
Millennials have close familial relationships; they have been pampered, & nurtured and expect the same in their professional relationships through feedback and validation.
(silence is deadly)
Millennials are the most socially conscious generation of our time, volunteering at higher rates than previous generations and reversing negative youth trends, like teen pregnancy and alcohol abuse. (they are raising standards)
It may be that their courage and optimism scares us and I know it challenges us to think different. This generation is revolutionary is so many ways…they are most certainly a generation of excellence and those of you in leadership should take notice.
By 2025, Millennials will be a majority of the workforce, predictions are as high as 60%. Many Millennials are already excelling and doing great things…
I could tell you about Mark Zuckerburg’s and Tony Hseih’s or unknown CEO’s like swimwear designer Rachel Hill, the founder and CEO of Origami Customs or Dave Anderson the founder of Acoustic Opera, Canada’s most positive bullying prevention program.
I could refer you to Forbes 30 Under 30 list or name those who just won Olympic medals in Sochi. Or I could tell you about the Millennial men and women rising up the ranks in our armed forces.
But the truth is you are already surrounded by Millennials who are excelling or have the potential to do so.
So what gets in the way of recognizing their excellence?
Is it our own bias and inability to “think different”?
Excellent leaders don’t believe the hype! They “think different” and challenge those around them to excel.
Influential Leadership Thinker, Peter Drucker said, “Leadership is not magnetic personality, that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not “making friends and influencing people”, that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”
I ask you:
Are you lifting up a Millennials’ vision to higher sights?
Are you raising their performance to a higher standard?
Have you built their personality beyond its normal limitations?
As leaders in an excellence these are questions we have to answer and respond to. It is the very reason why I dedicate my professional practice to equipping Millennials with leadership skills for life. My presentation today is actually unusual since I spend most of my time talking to Millennials, not about Millennials.
And it is in their stories that I recognize their deep desire to learn and grow, and understand their need for leadership and mentoring. Unlike Boomers and Gen Xers, Millennials expect and anticipate productive feedback and criticism. In fact, the lack of it creates a sense of insecurity for them. They seek mentoring as one of the many tools they need to succeed.
So mentoring Millennials is opportunity for you to “think different” and lead and mentor with excellence.
But we must be aware that the old model of the “elder and wiser mentor who espouses their wisdom onto another” is no longer relevant.
It is essential for mentors today to enter into mentoring relationships with a greater sense of equity and a desire for mutual reciprocity.
Over the last 25 years, there has been a paradigm shift in mentoring. Mentoring expert Lois Zachary makes it clear that “The current paradigm [for mentoring] has evolved…The mentee plays an active role, the mentor functions as a learning facilitator rather than an authority, and critical reflection and self-directed learning drive the relationship”
There is a lot that mentors can learn from Millennial mentees, and I don’t just mean technology and social media. Certainly technological skills are something Millennials have to offer, but there is so much more to be learned from those who are different from us, it only requires us to listen and be willing to learn as much as we are to teach.
Effective mentors are curious about difference and must be able to co-create a mentoring relationship where both the mentor and mentee are able to accept differences and adapt.
So how can you mentor excellence in Millennials?
- Suspend judgment
- Tolerate ambiguity
- Shift your frame of reference
- Develop multiple interpretations
- Ask questions and gather more information – be curious!!!
As leaders in excellence it is essential that we recognize the excellence around us, as public servants it is critical to prepare for tomorrow and create a legacy of service for future generations.
Recognizing and valuing difference is only an asset when you leverage it.
So I encourage all of you, including the Millennials in the room, to challenge yourself to “think different” and take advantage of the mentoring opportunities around you.
Thank you again for the invitation and opportunity to be a part of your program and celebration. I congratulate all of the winners today, and the future winners of tomorrow.