millennials

The One Thing You Should Understand About Millennials (and Yourself)

By Deke Copenhaver

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love to chatter in place of exercise.”

Man, these millennials are really something!  They’re entitled, they want to be coddled, and their incessant use of portable devices can just drive you up the wall! This above quote really says it all about them, doesn’t it? It would, if it hadn’t been attributed to Socrates in the 5th Century BC. The more things change, the more it seems they stay the same, particularly as it relates to cross-generational issues.

For many years now I’ve been fascinated by cross-generational relationships in businesses and communities. During my career, I’ve gone from being a young partner in a successful real estate firm in my twenties to a young mayor in my thirties and forties and now find myself as a business owner again in my early fifties.  For me, it’s actually been a strange but wonderful transition to go from being the guy who was told I was “too young” to do certain things, to now serving as a mentor to the younger generation of leaders here in Augusta, Georgia who are often told the same thing.

The quote from Socrates points to the fact that older generations throughout history have often viewed their younger counterparts with disdain and mistrust, and it’s definitely a two-way street. However, I’ve found that when these walls between generations are broken down within businesses and communities the results are very beneficial to all involved.

One of my strong focuses while in office and for the past four years back in the private sector with my consulting business has been to engage next generation leadership. There are some observations I’ve made along the way.  So often I’ve sat in board meetings where the question has been asked: “how do we engage millennials?”.  More times than not, I’ve pointed out that there hasn’t been anyone under the age of forty sitting in the room. I’ve come to the conclusion this would be akin to asking a room full of older, Caucasian men to come up with creative ways to address race relations. Probably not a good idea if you want a positive and impactful outcome.

A recent study showed that 79% of millennials believe “mentorship programs are crucial to their career success”.  Although it often seems that older generations perceive upcoming generations as a threat to take their jobs, this statistic underscores for me the key to unlocking the potential of our businesses and our communities: focusing on pairing the wisdom and life experience of older generations with the energy, ideas, and enthusiasm of the next generation.

We live in a fast-changing world where the pace of change picks up exponentially each day and the younger generation, a generation raised while constantly adjusting to and embracing these changes, has much to give. The more we provide them with mentorship and encouragement across generational lines, the more likely they are to do the same thing for the generation coming behind them.

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