Millennials been called a lot of things, including confident, connected and open to change. They're an important voting block in the US, but aren't very impressed by government solutions to problems. They like workplace flexibility, but crave in-person collaboration.
So how do you know what members of the Millennial Generation or Generation Y or whatever you want to call people who people who were born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s really want? You might want to ask Lindsey Pollak, a New York City-based nationally recognized expert on millennial workplace issues.
Busy? That's an Understatement
An ambassador for LinkedIn, a spokesperson for The Hartford, board chair for She's the First, Pollak is also a bestselling author and mom. She authored "Getting from College to Career: Your Essential Guide to Succeeding in the Real World" and has another book "Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders" set for publication next month. In addition, Forbes named her workplace advice blog one of the top 75 career-focused websites.
What advice does Pollak have to share? Read on.
Sobel: How did you plan your career to become a millennial workplace expert?
Pollak: I wish I could say I had a plan all along, but the truth is that I started out very uncertain of my career path. All I knew for sure was that I had a strong interest in college about how people choose and develop their careers. It probably came from the fact that my mom was an avid listener of business and self-development tapes in our station wagon when I was a kid.
I worked for about a year after graduating from Yale at WorkingWoman.com. I loved the job because it combined that interest with the excitement and growth curve of working at a start-up. After that, I worked part-time for a women's business organization while starting my own business as a researcher, writer and speaker helping young professionals build their careers. I grew that for many years and then, when I wrote my first book, my platform expanded enough that companies started to request speaking and consulting for their your employees.
LinkedIn brought me on as a consultant for a pilot three-month project in 2009 and I'm still an ambassador for them today. In that role, I host training webinars for job seekers who want to learn how to best use the site. Today my business includes keynote speeches, corporate consulting, corporate training, college campus presentations and writing books and articles all surrounding the topic of the millennial generation.
Sobel: In your first book, you say that baby boomers, born from about 1946 to 1964, define themselves as optimistic, self-focused, competitive and forever young. At the same time you say that millennials, born from about the early 1980s to about 2000 are self-expressive, group oriented, global and tech dependent. Can you talk about the challenges these two groups have trying to work together harmoniously?
Pollak: Baby Boomers are, in most cases, the parents of Millennials and the two generations are actually quite similar in their optimism, group orientation and desire to have lots of life experience. They often get along quite well despite their age difference. The biggest challenge is around technology. Boomers are certainly heavy users of technology and eager to stay relevant in their tech knowledge and usage, whereas technology is simply innate to millennials. Boomers can become frustrated with millennials' lack of face-to-face communication and professional writing skills, and millennials can become frustrated with Boomers' often slower pace of tech usage and work production.
Sobel: One of my favorite parts of your book is a reference to Dale Carnegie’s 1936 book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” You say it’s that’s still quite relevant, even after almost 80 years later. In addition, you mention “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey and others by Malcolm Gladwell, David Ogilvy, Peter Drucker and Daniel Pink, to name a few. Can you share with us your thoughts on these writers, particularly about Carnegie and Covey?
Pollak: I'm glad we're fans of similar books! I felt it was very important in this book on leadership for the millennial generation to remind them of the brilliant leadership and career advice of previous generations. We just need to add to it. And in re-reading some of those classic books while writing my book, I was continually struck by how much of the advice I still hear referred to in meetings, conferences and boardrooms today. It's crucial for millennials to know their leadership history. One of favorite quotations is Harry Truman's "All leaders are readers."
"How to Win Friends …" was one of the first self-help-type books I personally ever read. I loved how it captured so many things that we intuitively know are important but still forget, like remembering people's names and smiling and making eye contact.
Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" is just a masterpiece of business and self-management — so much so that many people quote from it without even knowing they're doing so. I don't even know why I bothered using my highlighter pen in that book because I basically highlighted the entire thing. And phrases like "begin with the end in mind" and "seek first to understand, then to be understood" come to my mind all the time while running my business.
Sobel: Keeping in mind that you represent LinkedIn, you say, “LinkedIn is the most important social network for the majority of industries because it’s completely professional." Can you talk a bit about a LinkedIn profile versus the use of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, for example?
Pollak: Many millennial leaders and aspiring leaders grew up using social networking sites like Facebook as kids and teenagers, so their careers were not on their minds. The problem is that this leaves a digital trail of information, comments, photos and videos you definitely wouldn't want professional colleagues to see. One of the values of LinkedIn is that it only represents your professional accomplishments.
Sobel: You also devote a chapter in the book on the subject of listening. You say that “leaders use the word ‘I’ less than non-leaders, dispelling the commonly held belief that leaders are self-centered or egotistical” and that according to your research “the high-status person is looking out at the world and the low level person is looking at themselves.” Can you share your thoughts on that research?
Pollak: My grandfather used to say, "There's a reason you have two ears and one mouth; use them accordingly." It's my belief that the best leaders (with some exceptions, of course) are skilled listeners. No one can know everything. So smart leaders surround themselves with other smart people and listen to their input and guidance. Leaders do have to be decisive and persuasive, but they have to do that not just in the context of what they want or how they prefer to communicate, but how their various constituents -- employees, clients, shareholders, investors, etc. -- will feel about and want to hear information.
Sobel: Finally, besides your great books, your blog and the various presentations you are chock full of good information. Any thoughts you can share with our readers who tend to be seasoned executives with jobs such as CEO, CMO, CFO or other upper level management?
Pollak: The message I would love to get across to senior leaders is that the millennial generation is not the entitled, coddled, living-in-their-parents'-basements group you tend to read about in the media. While some of the stereotypes have some basis in reality, remember that most millennials are eager to succeed in their careers and be productive employees and managers.
But they will need a lot of training to become truly excellent professionals. I am a strong advocate of providing leadership development training, soft skills training and mentorship. In today's constantly changing world, the companies that commit to continually educating their employees — and their leaders especially — will be the most successful.