Most of today’s business leaders went through traditional training, learning from books steeped in established standards and taking to heart that age and experience yield greater skill and industry wisdom. I entered into such a position at a pretty young age, which made it easy for me to seek out the advice of older, wiser mentors who had been around the block many times — including facing dissenting board members and economic dives — so I had good sources of information and advice.
In the past 25 years, however, the world has changed, and quickly. With current technology, we find ourselves learning in a new way to stay relevant — directly from the mouths of those both changing the world and being changed by it. Like that of so many of today’s leaders, my schooling included no forecasts of evolutions like Internet, gig economies or the unexpected health crises thrust upon us. To deal with these constant changes, business leaders must open ourselves up to absorb new and crucial lessons… be vulnerable enough to recognize and accept the wisdom of a younger generation.
Innovation comes from disruption
As you become more senior, both in age and in company experience, you become more secure in the way you do things — in methods that clearly seem successful, even in a changing world. For mentorship, I can call on a peer with the same level of experience, but turning to members of the younger generation requires giving up that security. Taking that risk, however, can often be the only way someone who’s comfortable in their ways to truly try something new.
Generation Z and millennial members come into their fields with new and often broad-application ideas, especially in the tech space, but often no real way of asking senior leaders their opinions in response. Even if not every idea blows you away, keeping an open mind, and truly listening, can give you new ways of approaching problems and improving efficiency, especially with the newest technology. Of course, the first time could involve admitting to some serious vulnerability, but listening is like so many other actions: you grow in capability each time.
Staying current is a marathon and a sprint
Being vulnerable gives you the confidence to accept when someone else knows more than you, a critical skill in today’s fast-paced environment. Everything is growing exponentially these days, and you have to be constantly training to keep up with paradigm shifts. When you reach a career high point, it can be hard to admit that you can still benefit from such training, but input from younger minds, in advancing fields, who often have more answers than you, is a success tonic.
I recall, early in my career, when my company was putting in a customer payment platform to accept credit cards and gather data to better understand spending habits. Young people in the office were given to a steady stream of suggestions about how to run it better or to use its information more effectively. A couple of them started telling me about their side projects as developers — working to further the value of information in ways beyond sales — including mapping behavior and “geo-fencing” to track consumer interactions with competitors. It all sounded like Big Brother to me, and getting over that hurdle required active listening to these visionaries as they explained an industry that I was still struggling to understand… in the process admitting to myself that I needed their input.
Learn in new ways to improve company culture
Respecting the younger generation in our organization caused them to respect me back, which became a valuable part of shaping a positive company culture, and enhanced my own skills. I learned to trust and to better consider input. When you do that — thoughtfully take in someone’s opinions — they feel their own contribution to the company with greater resonance, and become more invested in driving its success.
My experiences learning from a younger generation also taught me to see the value of new technology platforms for our organization and its shareholders, without the need for any traditional training. So, instead of always being the one to teach, let yourself learn from younger members on a team to build an expanding circle of trust. This two-way flow of information cuts down on the burden of having to stay on top of everything.
The best teachers are learning all the time, and competing in today’s world requires input from everyone.Internet Explorer Channel Network