We’ve all been reading about Millennials (or Generation Y) for fifteen years. As they graduate school and enter their careers, they’re bringing a new set of expectations with them. Their idea of a “work day” often looks different than their Baby Boomer boss’. As I interact with established employers, coaches, educators and leaders, I find they fall into one of two major camps as they view these new workers.
What Two Kinds of Executives Say About Today’s Graduates:
- “These kids are lazy, entitled slackers. They’ve got lots to learn about a job.”
- “These kids are redefining the workplace. They’ll reinvent what jobs look like.”
In reality, there’s a kernel of truth in both of these viewpoints. No doubt, students will need to adjust as they move from a dorm room to a cubicle. They may not be able to wear flip-flops or shorts when working for a Fortune 500 company (at least right now), but I believe they’re on the front edge of a new “on-demand” workforce that’s more about projects than the clock, who may do their best work at midnight rather than noon, and who communicate virtually more than face to face. I believe management will need to adjust as these Millennials become the majority in 10 years.
The Cultural and the Timeless
The fact is, effective leaders are able to separate what is cultural (trends that change all the time) from what is timeless (the changeless virtues all team members must possess). They adapt to the changing culture—the new rules and new ways to get work done more efficiently—but they cling to the timeless truths that make for a good workplace.
Think about it: if leaders never change anything, they’ll become dinosaurs quickly. If they’re always changing everything, they create a volatile and unstable culture at work. Both consistency and change are necessary. So here is my question as we attempt to equip graduates for work: What are the timeless qualities leaders must build into team members in every generation? Let me suggest eight virtues that will never go out of style:
Timeless Traits Regardless of the Generation
There comes a time in everyone’s career when the work is no longer glitzy or glamorous — it just needs to get done. We don’t feel passionate in that moment, but we must do what is right, even when we don’t feel like it. This is a timeless virtue. While kids always want to find work they are passionate about, nothing takes the place of grit and old-fashioned work ethic.
2. Respect for authority
While this virtue may look slightly different in each new generation, civilization will cease to make progress unless each population of workers learns to submit to governing authority. Even if it comes kicking and screaming, growth cannot be achieved without coordination and organization from an agreed-upon leader. Respect for those who cast the vision and manage the progress is essential.
Imagine a new population of colleagues who possess zero empathy for their peers. While job descriptions may still be followed, organizational culture would be lifeless. Genuine excellence occurs when people care more about each other than they do about money. This turns a one-mile walk into a second mile and motivates people better and faster than perks. It gives work meaning.
More and more leadership gurus are proposing that resourcefulness is the meta-competency of the 21st century. Why? Because information is no longer scarce. Anyone in any position has access to any question. Resourceful team members who can dig and find solutions will be in high demand. Organizations seek out people who can adapt and reinvent themselves because they possess this trait.
5. Delayed gratification
Regardless of what age we live in, team members who are not slaves to instant gratification will be attractive to employers. People perform better when they can wait on solutions they want and perform due diligence on rewards they seek. Delayed gratification is not only a mark of maturity, it is a sign of value. People who embody it frequently get promoted to leadership roles.
This is the first component of emotional intelligence; it is also a rare trait in people. I believe this is a timeless skill or quality because of the pace of progress we are making with technology. Screens don’t cultivate emotional intelligence or interpersonal skills like genuine face-to-face interaction.
7. Teachable spirit
This is all about remaining coachable into one’s later years. It means maintaining a hungry mind, a humble heart, and a growth mindset, even into the second half of your career. Once again, this is timeless because change happens so rapidly. So it’s important for people to adapt and adopt new ways.
Much is being written about this topic today, probably because so few of us (and the Millennial generation) possess it. Due to modern culture, we’re conditioned to quit early when things get tough or never make a long-term commitment. We are used to a world that is fast, convenient, and full of stimulation. Team members are needed who can bounce back (and even bounce forward) from a fail.
Here’s to balancing the art of adapting to culture and technology—and embracing the timeless virtues that teams will always need.
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