Leadership: A Millennial’s Perspective

by Emily Valerio
Heinold Banwart, Ltd.

From millennial to millennial, an honest examination of the next generation of business leaders…

As a 20-something young professional, I’ve read what feels like a million articles about my generation—the millennial generation—and how we act, think and feel about our careers and employers. So far, I’ve learned that we are stereotypically not hard workers, get bored easily and expect to be treated like professionals without having to act like one. Harsh! But to be fair, every new generation has its stereotypes and negative associations.

Thus far, most of the literature I’ve read has been directed towards employers and what they can do to create a comfortable work environment for my generation. For example, they are encouraged to change the way they train staff and to allow flexible hours and scheduling to make us happy. But I have yet to read an article that addresses the millennial audience directly. So here it is, my fellow millennials: we are highly educated, open-minded, tech-savvy, creative, passionate and energetic! (We can also be stubborn, distracted and impatient. I am immovable on this—but let’s stay focused and get to the point already!)

We have a lot to offer the business world—and employers know it. Why do you think they are trying so hard and are so willing to change for us?

A Double-Edged Sword
Let’s address the top three “accusations” and associations when it comes to the millennial generation. The main association with millennials is their technological aptitude, which is a double-edged sword. It puts us among the elite in an area that is becoming more important in everyday business, and often allows us to be a key resource for our bosses: oftentimes, the baby boomer generation. It also means we have grown accustomed to instantaneous communication and knowledge literally at our fingertips… but there is only so much room for business etiquette in an instant message.

We are used to instant news, livestreaming and googling any question to which we don’t already know the answer. But you can’t google how to be successful at your job—that’s an answer that can only be attained through experience, professionalism and hard work, which brings me to my next point…

The Work/Life Balance Stigma
I’ve heard my generation referred to as the “trophy generation,” which is to say we are supposedly used to being told we are great at anything we do, so long as we show up. I am guilty of having received a few participation trophies in my lifetime, but it was never a matter of ego; rather, it was a way to encourage participation and keep kids active and involved. I think the stigma of not being hard workers stems from this idea of “work-life balance,” which is a relatively new concept. The idea of work-life balance is so deeply instilled into us that we are entering the workforce with a dream of what we think that term means already in our heads.

There is no question that a healthy workload is key to a successful and happy employee, but admittedly, our generation seems convinced it means working as few hours as possible. This leaves companies with a workforce of millennials who are trying to achieve this perfect “work-life balance” and their baby boomer superiors who have stereotypically worked much longer hours. A little leeway here by both parties will go a long way, and for all my peers at the aging end of the millennial generation, it looks like it is our responsibility to blend this gap.

Happiness and Hard Work
The last major association with the millennial generation is that we are highly educated. The college push has been growing for several generations and is currently at its highest, with many of the youngest millennials now beginning their college searches. College provides the technical knowledge to do a job, but in the real world, there are established rules, set policies and age-old traditions particular to specific companies and industries that need to be learned firsthand. As a result, millennials are entering the workforce with the confidence that they know what they are doing—and the student debt to prove it—but quickly realize it is not going to be as easy as first thought.

Hard work makes a job enjoyable because it leads to success. There are very few hobbies people enjoy when they are not willing to put the effort into working hard at it. (Golf, anyone?) For any skill, working hard makes you better, and becoming better allows you to enjoy what you are doing, whatever that may be. This concept applies to the workplace, too, and we know that. So, baby boomers, be patient with us millennials—we will get there!

Ultimately, what I’m getting at is that we—the millennials—will become the next generation of leaders. We have looked up to leaders who have been featured in magazines, newspapers and even movies our entire lives. We see these leaders in the media as genuinely happy and healthy people, and we think, “I want to be like that!” Sometimes, it may seem as if their leadership roles have just fallen into their laps or been granted by a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But I can guarantee they have all worked hard to be successful at what they do, making their own opportunities and ultimate happiness. So don’t give up, generation! The workforce needs our sharp minds, honed skills and passion!

(One final piece of advice, millennials: stay off Snapchat at work. It’s hard to be taken seriously as a professional when you’re at your cubicle taking pictures of yourself in a funny hat!) iBi

Emily Valerio, CPA is staff accountant in the Audit Services Department at Heinold Banwart, Ltd. She may be reached at (309) 694-4251 or evalerio@hbcpas.com.

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