Over the past fifteen years, our focus has shifted from women making it in male-dominated industries to older/younger generations trying to figure each other out. This is where my attention is aimed given that the leaders who come to me often want coaching on how to crack the code of intergenerational craziness.
Nicole Rogers, cofounder of GenIN Solutions, is a wickedly savvy millennial executive who is running a start-up aimed at capturing and cultivating the voice of younger generations. I’ve teamed up with her to reshape how we leverage the best of all ages by infusing the wisdom of older generations into the potential younger generations believe in. Together, we’re working to give each of our own generations a new way of appreciating and engaging the other.
Passing on Wisdom
Here’s Nicole’s take on absorbing the wisdom older generations have to offer.
When your mom told you to wear a helmet while riding your bike when you were a kid, it’s not because she didn’t have faith that you could ride. She knew the risks, and she knew the odds from life experience. Perhaps she, herself, had fallen off and gotten hurt in her past. You saw nothing but potential—how fun it was going to be soaring down that hill with the wind in your hair. She saw the realities of the world—that falling off and hitting your head isn’t fun for anyone. And often, the risk has nothing to do with you, but the danger resides with the careless car driver not on the lookout for you.
I find myself like a kid with a bike quite often in the corporate world. I see what things could be and don’t always understand the risks and challenges that have shaped the way things are. I sometimes assume policies, advice, even feedback passed down from older generations is antiquated concern, obsolete in today’s world. And perhaps a small portion of it is, but the vast majority it is valuable life and business experience being served to me on a silver platter.
This ought to be received graciously, respectfully, and with a curious mind. What have they seen that I have not yet? What is the equivalent in the world of today? While it feels you are taking a step back in time, understanding how that same challenge may resurface in today’s business world actually puts you ahead of the game. The feedback and guidance are not negative perceptions of your abilities and potential, but rather a way to help ensure your potential doesn’t get hit by a car.
When I show up to work, I’m excited. I’m confident. And those are great things to be. But just like young me on the bike, I’m not invincible. I can make an unnecessarily risky move or a wrong turn, and I’d be a fool not to absorb the wisdom offered to me like a sponge. The older generations imparting the wisdom have likely learned the hard way. They have the scars to prove it. You have the opportunity not to. All you have to do is listen.
Here’s my millennial-taught insight on potential.
Here comes that twenty-something teammate who is all lit up with a new idea. She’s on fire about how to do it, how much it will help our customers, and that it’s never been done before. Her energy is like a huge campfire—bright, jumping flames—and it immediately draws me in.
I watch myself move right to whether this new idea will work. Right away I jump into the questions: How much will it cost? Are you sure no one’s doing it? Have you verified your assumptions are accurate? I’m trying to help. I don’t want the idea to fail. Though if I were paying attention, a shift happens, and the shutdown begins. Quiet seeps in, excitement fades, and yes/no answers start. I didn’t stay in the potential of success long enough to convey my support and that I’m open to the exciting idea my twenty-something is truly passionate about.
I’ve learned the hard way that questions can open up potential or shut it down, that feedback about a new idea is a form of recognition, and that promoting success versus avoiding failure all keep me connected to my twenty-something partner. The best way I can affect the actions of my younger colleagues—that is to lead them—is to use more influencing skills rather than those directing and managing skills I’ve been using for years. Yes, it takes more time and special attention, but if you want to leverage the potential our younger generations offer, it’s non-negotiable.
Though I’m not sure what the next fifteen years will bring, I do know our younger generations will be taking our place. I plan to do my part to learn how to share my wisdom in a way that helps shape the business culture, so we all succeed. Partnering with millennials, like Nicole, who’s also working to “get” those ahead of her, seems like a wise investment in the possibilities that exist between us.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Mimi Welch was a contributing writer for Loss Prevention magazine starting in our premiere Fall 2001 issue until 2005. She authored a Women in LP column as well as feature articles on diversity like the cover story in our May–June 2002 issue shown here.