As some of you might know, I’ve been fortunate to be a mentor at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco for many years. It’s a resolutely terrific organization with an invaluable mission and even better people presiding over it.
The Milestone Makers program, more specifically, helps founders set, achieve, and celebrate goals that are integral to their company’s growth by pairing them with experts in relevant fields. Though there are occasionally more “seasoned” founders, most are millennials (and even some Gen Z).
In my day job advising officers and directors of high-growth companies about things like complex capital markets issues and storytelling, some of those more “seasoned” executives whine about the incessant hand-holding that’s required when leading and motivating millennials.
As one CEO recently put it: “I routinely dole out ‘tough love’ to sheltered kids who clearly got lots of trophies for coming in last. Their parents and teachers definitely left out the part about most of life being a meritocracy.”
[Editor’s note: This is the part where you respectfully desist from shooting the messenger.]
Now, to be candid, it’s not like I have no idea what these CEOs are on about. I’ve experienced my fair share of millennials who would benefit dramatically from a few minutes alone in a woodshed with Winston Churchill.
But, there’s so much to like and admire.
They value direct communication. While smartphones and texting have admittedly robbed some millennials of the ability to write and speak as well as they should, I’ve found that they’re much more willing to engage in hard, direct conversations than their predecessors. It couldn’t be more refreshing, and it not only bodes well for their business careers but also for their private lives as well.
They don’t need to be the smartest in the room. Most of the founders I mentor are ego-lite and matter of fact about their insecurities. They are very quick to admit what they don’t know, and as a result, they are consummate learners.
They are wise beyond their years. Perhaps because some of them are only children raised by older parents, I’m constantly taken aback by the poise and maturity of these young entrepreneurs. I routinely find myself physically shaking my head in amazement.
They don’t care how it’s “always been done.” One of the reasons these founders are so innovative and skillful is that they have seen the world change so much in their lives that their crystal balls are delightfully unencumbered.
They (often) practice what they preach. One thing will never change about building a whole lot of something out of nothing – it requires unrelenting focus and a Herculean amount of work. But their consciousness about wellness and contentedness makes them better leaders because they can more seamlessly weave those concerns into their daily decision making.
Labels are necessarily broad brushes, and unfortunately, they are also often pejorative. I am one of those people who succumbed for many years to fanciful (read: stupid) “millennial” preconceptions.
Be smarter than I was. Spend as much time as possible with young founders; be a mentor. You’ll both be happy you did.