Why C-Suite Execs Should Let Millennials Be Their Mentors

Originally published in INC.

In recent years, millennials in the workplace have often been painted as either problems or punch lines. It's not uncommon to see a piece about how to effectively manage millennials despite their supposed generation-wide flaws, from their need for instant gratification, to their tendency toward entitlement, to their addiction to technology.

Another article might recommend that you avoid hiring millennials, because they job hop or require a lot of day-to-day coaching.

But these pieces share a big blind spot: they focus on minor possible drawbacks instead of big potential opportunities. Millennials aren't ours to force into one generation's way of thinking and working, and they shouldn't be seen as problems to be fixed.

Embracing what is now the majority generation in the office may not only improve your company culture, it can also make for a healthier bottom line.

An easy choice: roadblocks or windows?

As a CEO, I'm responsible for leading the vision and strategy of my agency; I have to know where the industry is going. Surrounding myself with younger people keeps me super informed about digital innovations, changing consumer behaviors and social trends--from bitmoji to adulting to holographic light field displays.

Not only do millennial colleagues have a fresh take, they also share the perspective of a significant slice of most brands' audiences. In many cases, they are the target consumer.

Yes, the Meme Generation engages with the world differently than Gen X. But instead of seeing that difference as a roadblock, look at it as a window. As the ascendant population, they can give us real insight to the changing world and their voices will only be getting louder in coming years.

The millennial slice of American workers (ages 19 to 35) surpassed Generation X last year to become the dominant set in our workforce and are predicted to represent half of all U.S. workers by 2020, according to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

Tapping the millennial mindset

Generational differences are real. Just as shared pop culture references, historical moments, and rites of passage bring same-aged people together, they create gulfs between generations. It can also be a challenge to connect with millennials if, as an executive, you don't work directly with younger employees. My advice? Seek them out.

Here are four strategies I use to make sure the next great insight from a twentysomething is not only heard, but seriously considered:

1. Really listen

Stay open to new ideas and information, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable. If you don't understand what people love about livestreaming or an app like musical.ly, for example, find someone who does.

Don't be afraid to say, "teach me," to a younger colleague. Being up to speed on the latest Snapchat lenses and hacks might not turn you into a mad user, but it keeps you in touch with an influential slice of society.

2. Go beyond workplace roles

Great ideas can come from any person, at any level. Don't box in employees by their job description or seniority. Don't dismiss an intern who surfaces a trend you should be paying attention to--it might just lead to the next big idea.

That part about millennials being the consumer? It means their life experience can be just as valuable as their actual work experience.

3. Don't try to do it all

It's tough to accept that you can't do or know it all, but you'll limit your growth and value to the organization if you try to fill the gaps yourself.

Trusting others and delegating work is key in two important areas: overall efficiency and personal development. Matching projects to individuals with the right skills is a no-brainer. What's more difficult is betting on team members' potential by entrusting them with work that stretches capabilities early in their careers.

But sharing responsibilities sends an unmistakable message that you have faith in the team and want them to succeed and grow.

4. Give everyone a platform

Make sure that employees, no matter their position, have an opportunity to contribute creatively to the group as a whole. Consider conducting regular surveys for input on benefits and culture. Invite knowledge sharing with lunch-and-learn sessions. At Swift, we have agency-wide breakfast meetings every Monday morning to start the week, share work insights, and give everyone a welcoming platform for their voice--and opportunity to take the stage.

Like everyone in your workplace, millennials should be celebrated for the strengths of their differences. Where one executive sees someone with a selfie fixation, another leader sees a teammate who has meaningful and important insights into the next social trend.

Which executive do you want to be?

Join the conversation