June 13, 2011

Millennials: Leading the Way

We have been blessed with some incredible generations that have built and maintained our country. The founding fathers fought for our independence and constituted the great federal and state governmental institutions that are still the engine of our country. The Civil War generation gave its life and blood to preserve our country and end slavery. The WWII generation toiled through a horrible Great Depression and led the defeat of Hitler’s Nazi regime and of Japanese imperialism.

The Millennial generation, which includes those born between 1981 and 2000, seems to get bad press. “Entitled,” “lazy” and having “unrealistic expectations” are words often used to describe Millennials. Indeed, every generation seems to underestimate the next. Plato wrote 2,500 years ago how his contemporaries worried that the next generation of Athenians were too soft, not hard working and wanted success without effort. Every generation since then has likely expressed the same judgments about the generation following it.

Yet, the young can do amazing things. Alexander the Great conquered most of the civilized world by age 26. Alexander Hamilton was 32, and James Madison was 36 when they led the writing and adoption of the United States Constitution. Albert Einstein was under 30 when he published the great theories that sparked a quantum leap in science and technology. We should never underestimate the next generation of talent.

I believe that Millennials could turn out to be one of the greatest generations of our time. They have three advantages instrumental to their success.

One, they have grown up during the tech revolution, making them the most technologically savvy and information-intensive generation of all time. The world is changing dramatically because of the Internet and digital technology, and Millennials understand it best.

Two, Millennials are achievement-oriented and used to working under pressure. Although this notion contradicts the popular view, Millennials study harder in middle and high school. Many take a plethora of advanced academic classes and study longer hours than did the baby boomer generation to which I belong. Today, getting into college is more competitive and puts greater importance on class work and test scores. In addition, many participate in intense, performance-based activities, such as club sports and dance, a fact that prepares them well for the highly competitive work world.

Three, Millennials know how to collaborate and communicate effectively with their peers to get work done. This skill is vitally needed in the real world and can make the difference between productive results and failure. I noticed my oldest would do school work with her classmates. I asked her if that was allowed since it had been considered cheating when I was in school; work was always done on your own. She said that the teacher encouraged them to study together. I realized the brilliance of this idea since one of the biggest difficulties at work is to practice open collaboration.

So here is a generation that is equipped with the skills to succeed today and tomorrow: superior in technology, competitive, high achieving and adept at collaboration and communication. The Millennial generation will lead the way to solving the most pressing economic, social, political and environmental issues in our history. And those of us from earlier generations who work with Millennials should not only encourage them, but also should collaborate and learn from them.