By Martin Zwilling
Millennials have come a long way in business since I started writing about them nearly ten years ago. They started out as that spoiled generation of kids, born between about 1982 and 2004, who had everything, and could care less about business. Today they are in every business, and will likely comprise 50 percent of the workforce by 2020. Their success is now vital to our success.
Like all of us, they have matured tremendously in the last decade, weathering a recession where there were few jobs waiting as they emerged from school, to finding that living with their parents was no longer a panacea for all problems. What they need now is some coaching from more experienced business leaders, to catch up and overcome some unique qualms and challenges.
As a partially-retired baby-boomer in business, I’ve spent much of the last few years mentoring aspiring millennial entrepreneurs, and I’m always looking for more insights into how to help them. I defer to a classic book on this subject, “Millennials Matter,” by Danita Bye, which helped me to solidify some jointly recommended strategies for building millennials into next-gen leaders:
Help them strengthen character by finding balance. This balance of character and courage is fundamental to a leader’s confidence, and is the key to getting results. Millennials need our coaching and mentoring to build confidence, to improve how they handle business relationships, tackle new responsibilities, and handle leadership roles.
Build more determination by capitalizing on values. Determination is the character quality needed to fuel resoluteness and resiliency as millennials face business realities. They generally have strong values, around a higher purpose, and these need to be supported and honed to improve emotional stamina and guide business decisions.
Activate a broader awareness of real-world drivers. In addition to the normal hurdles of growing up, millennials have had to deal with a media-saturated world of conflicting messages, celebrity excesses, and viral distractions. We can help them focus thinking inward to their strengths and personality, and outward to real forces in the marketplace.
Provide deeper knowledge to solidify moral fiber. A better understanding of how things works will boost moral fiber. Lack of knowledge can prevent it. A strong moral fiber is the key to acting responsibly, reacting to ethical dilemmas, predicting the intended and unintended consequences of any business decision, and guide toward wiser actions.
Nurture a realistic optimism for overcoming obstacles. Many millennials have grown discouraged or fatalistic about all the uncontrollable issues in our world, such as debt, terrorism, global warming, and a rocky political landscape. We need to focus their attention on what they can control to improve morale, creativity, and a positive mindset.
Be a role model for integrity to validate trustworthiness. Millennials are slow to trust business leaders, since many trust scandals hit during their impressionable years. Thus it is critical that trustworthiness and truthfulness be demonstrated for and nurtured in young leaders. A driving force in trust is showing integrity and concern beyond yourself.
Demonstrate positive action and accountability. Accountability means having the emotional maturity and internal backbone to take responsibility for your own actions and choices, and not shift blame to external factors. Business leaders and mentors must highlight their own focus on positive leadership actions, instead of defensive reactions.
Think of these strategies as an investment in your own future, as well as theirs. The end goal is to inspire them to invest in others, and to make a positive difference as well as a lasting impact. Each of us must us must use our wisdom and life experiences to show millennials, as our next-gen leaders, that they also have enormous wealth to share that goes far beyond monetary value.
The Writer is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, professor, and investor. Published on Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, Huffington Post, etc.