Business Strategy | Leadership / Management | Organizational Development

Boomers and millennials: We both have a lot to learn … and teach

There is a growing trend among organizations, and it isn’t a top-down approach.

Reverse mentoring, first popularized by former GE Chairman Jack Welsh, is growing rapidly and for good reason. As our Horizons 2025 research has shown, the No. 1 issue facing our profession today is the changing demographics of the workforce.

In a SCOT (or SWOT) analysis, these changing demographics -- and in particular, the negative attributes that Gen Y is known for -- could be seen as threats or challenges (weaknesses). But let’s use the Insights 2 Action (i2A) process I learned at the MACPA's recent Leadership Academy and flip them into opportunities.

  • Impatient: Yes, we millennials might be impatient at times, but it’s because we are expert multi-taskers. (Exhibit A: This entire post was written on a treadmill.) We are constantly looking for a quicker, better solution. How can this help you? We can teach you the shortcuts we have learned and advise you on solutions for effectiveness with efficiency.
  • Socially inept: Do we socialize in the same way you do? Not always, but that doesn’t mean we are socially awkward. We just communicate differently -- i.e., electronically. Electronic communications are not for everything, but they can be very useful in this expanding global market. They’re faster, not limited by time zones, and increase collaboration by equalizing everyone’s voice. Millennials are also naturally tech-savvy because of it. We didn’t take typing courses; we learned through instant messenger.
  • Entitled: I will be the first to admit my generation comes off as being entitled. In some cases it is the result of spoiled kids, but I think a lot of the time it is just dissatisfaction with the status quo and a desire for continuous improvement.  We don’t accept things the way they are; we challenge them to make them better. "That’s how it’s always done” doesn’t work for my generation. In your organization, if allowed, we can bring forth great ideas and improvements. 

So here’s what I want to say:

  • To the boomers: Stop trying to learn how to “manage” us like we are some foreign creature. You know us. Most of you raised us. And that “sense of entitlement” you complain about? That’s nurture, not nature. I’m in no way condoning it or blaming you for it. I'm just asking you to realize that we aren’t an issue to be talked about; we're people to be talked with. And we have some good attributes too, don’t forget. As much as we can learn from you, you can learn from us, too.
  • To the millennials: Stop giving boomers a reason to think of us as creatures. Let’s get over ourselves and highlight our good attributes. To do this, we have to be willing to learn and teach. Learn from those who have gone before. Value their contributions, experience and knowledge and be willing to teach, patiently, what we know. 

Let’s both stop talking about each other and learn to work with each other.

To start the collaboration, join us on June 25 at the MACPA’s Generational Symposium, sponsored by NYPN.


Rebekah Olson