Baby Boomer Advice for Millennials
I have been fortunate in my short “Millennial” life to have encountered some truly great mentors, from teachers and bosses to colleagues and friends. But one particular mentor stands out: my mom.
My mom started an aerospace and defense contracting company (mostly providing engineering and IT services) in her basement a few months before 9/11 happened and sent the economy into a downward spiral. Nevertheless, she kept her company (and her dream) alive through the Great Recession and continuously strived and fought to foster company growth. Her resilience worked, and this Boomer CEO now runs a successful and high-growth defense contracting business with over 175 employees and operations in nine states. This is in spite of my mom still being a minority in the defense world because of her gender. In fact, she has had to be very intentional with her business decisions and has gained some extraordinary wisdom because of her experiences. Here are three lessons I’ve learned from my mom.
When asked what she attributes her success to, my mom always responds, “My people.” And she means it; it’s not an auto- or empty response. She makes decisions based on her employees’ best interests, and it has paid off. She continually creates learning and development opportunities for her employees, so that they can grow with her company. She tells her employees that if they want to stay, she will work hard to ensure that there are career development and progression options available to them. Also, she emphasizes rewarding and recognizing good performance; she’s a HUGE believer of thank you cards and acknowledging the work of her employees by featuring a star employee in their newsletter or company meeting, for example. This people-centric attitude has landed her a culture where people are loyal and seemingly pretty happy. And I think that this lesson, while extremely applicable to leaders, is also applicable for the rest of the workforce as well. What if we thought about how our decisions and our work would affect our team and our coworkers? While there are certainly times when you need to look out for your own well being first, looking out for your team or your coworkers might benefit you more than you think. The way others regard you will determine a significant portion of your future success; everyone wants to see the “team player” succeed.
Give back and share your knowledge
My mom will tell you that she was very fortunate and encountered people throughout her career that wanted to mentor her, coach her, and help her hone her skills. She will tell you that she owes much of her success to the knowledge that others were willing to share with her. As a result, she has made it almost a life mission to give some of that knowledge back. (By the way, when she makes something her mission, watch out, world, because here she comes to make it happen!) She is consistently mentoring multiple young professionals, serving on boards with peers who can benefit from the knowledge she possesses, and helping to broker networked learning relationships for others. I don’t think we have to wait until we are at a C-level to help give back and share our knowledge – I think every employee would benefit from helping somebody else out by sharing some of the unique knowledge they possess. Everyone has something to learn and something to teach. Imagine how we could expand our own scope of knowledge if we all truly adopted that mindset and made it our mission to act on it.
Create a dynamic learning network – of mentors, coaches, and peers – to turn to for different learning and development needs
“Don’t underestimate the power of your network,” is my mother’s mantra; I swear she’s told me this at least a million times (I also get my ability to regularly exaggerate from her). And every time she repeats her “mantra,” my automatic response is, “Okay, yes, Mom, you’ve told me this before. I’ll reach out to people in my network when looking for my next job.” I never think I need to listen to her advice when I already have a job. I only need my network to find a job, right? Wrong. I’m realizing now that while your network is certainly important for any job search, it is equally as important, or maybe more important, when happily employed. I am just now fully grasping what she meant when she told me this time after time. My mom has created a dynamic learning network in her life – an array of mentors, coaches, and peers who she will contact when she lacks expertise in a certain area or when she has a learning need. She will tell you that having a few good mentors who will guide you throughout your career is essential to your success. She will rave on and on about Brian E., her last mentor, if you ask her how he positively impacted her career and pushed her to be a better businesswoman. She also relies on a network of coaches – from consulting her “public speaking coach” (a.k.a. her good friend Sarah) to more formally asking to be coached by a member of her team on how to best handle a certain government process or client. Being a businesswoman in a highly technical industry, she has several peers and team members to whom she reaches out when she needs to understand or learn more about technical or specialized learning needs. This dynamic and evolving learning network has helped her achieve much of her success. I think we all stand to benefit from creating a network to help us become more knowledgeable, to solve business problems more easily and more efficiently, and to help us facilitate our own self-directed development.
My mom thinks it’s cool that I work at River, where we help other companies’ employees create internal dynamic learning networks. She has built her network over the last 35 years of her professional life, and she would have loved a technology, like River, that could have made the process easier and more efficient. And I have to admit, it is feels pretty good to impress my mom with the work I do, given that fact that she impresses me every day with her own success.