In some ways, I’m surprised to be the youngest at the leadership table. But above all, he just feels right. I am ambitious and have never tried to hide it. I worked hard to achieve my goals and had some great mentors along the way.
Here are a few reasons why I think every management team needs someone under 40 at the table – and some examples of ‘wins’ this millennium helped initiate.
1. Millennials challenge the status quo. The younger generations are not bound by tradition. Like other millennials, my thought process is unrelated to the way things have always been done.
Our CEO calls me a nonconformist, and I think he thinks it in a good way.
If I don’t understand, I’ll ask a lot of questions.
Why do we do it this way? Who does it benefit from? How can we do something better and more efficiently?
If I don’t agree, I will push back.
A good leader, which my colleagues and I are fortunate to have, appreciates a dissenting opinion.
Our management team was discussing a five-year plan, and I asked, “Why five years, when the best you can foresee is three years?” And it’s getting really blurry this third year. So we ended up with a three-year strategic approach. We have a rough idea of our five-year plan, but we’re only focusing on the next three years.
2. Technology is second nature to us. Millennials understand technology and how to use it to get things done. I have helped develop innovative ways to use technology to operate more efficiently and automate our processes.
I helped build our business intelligence team, which transformed the way we use data and leveraged predictive analytics within the credit union. And now is the right time to tell you: I am far from the only one doing it. I have a large team and we provide a valuable service. We help other teams leverage data to make better business decisions.
My team and I introduced the idea of dashboards using our own data, without relying on vendor tools. We are now comparing ourselves to a number of goals.
3. Millennials know how to collaborate and overcome resistance. Millennials are used to ideas being greeted with skepticism. Whenever someone comes up with a new way of doing something, there are people who balk because “that’s how we’ve always done it”.
Here’s what I learned: Collaborate with people who want to your help. You don’t need to get buy-in from the whole organization. Start small. Be prepared to work with an ally who sees the value in what you do. When you make that person’s job easier, other departments suddenly want a part of what you do.
When you sell something that people have never seen before, you have to be a partner, not a know-it-all. Collaborate. To be curious. To ask questions. Here are some questions I ask most often:
- What data do you want to see on a daily basis?
- What data would make it easier for you?
- What are you tracking manually that you wish you could automate?
4. Millennials are naturally socially aware. We bring a certain cultural sensitivity to the workplace. I recognize both my whiteness and my “masculinity”. I know that as a white man there are perspectives that I just don’t have, no matter how high my emotional intelligence is. I know that I need colleagues who have different opinions from mine to integrate diversity into thought and experience. I want to know what my female colleagues think, what my colleagues of color think. I have tried to build strong partnerships with people who don’t look like me or think like me. I think most millennials do.
5. Good culture matters – a lot – to millennials. I wanted to work at Sharonview after I got a loan for a motorhome through Sharonview. When we went to close the loan it was a great experience. My wife and I literally looked at each other and said, “There’s something going on here. It was special. I wanted to be part of it.
At Sharonview, we all truly want the best for each other and for our members. We are not alone ; we are out for the team. We all strive to do the right thing.
And we are a culture of feedback. We take the time to help. When I think back to my early days at Sharonview – seven years ago – I see myself as a star who didn’t know how to play as a team or didn’t understand the value of teamwork. I could do the job, but I didn’t see that the way I did it mattered too. I have had, and continue to have, great mentors here. They taught me self-awareness.
As my leadership skills improved, people started looking for me as a mentor. I always say: I don’t want people walking in the same potholes as me.
6. Millennials love to be mentors. I have about 20 people – both older and younger than me – that I mentor now. It is an honor. Yet when someone asks me for help, I don’t say “yes” right away. There must be some kind of interview. I need to see if they are there for the right reasons and if I think I can be of help. They also need to find out if I am the right person for them.
Anyone I meet will have to get to work. There is a book, “The Effective Manager,” by Mark Horstman that I give to anyone who asks me for advice. I ask people to read this book and then come back and talk to me. Not everyone wants to take this step, and that’s good.
7. Millennials are relatable. Younger teammates have told me they see me as “their voice” at the leadership table. It wasn’t that long ago that I was a frontline worker. I remember how it was. When we make decisions that impact employees, I always want to consider how it will end up with them. Are we doing the right thing through them?
I am fortunate to work for an organization that values all voices, including mine. I know I’m biased, but I think every organization could benefit from having a millennium in the C suite.
Blaine Lahrs is senior vice president of digital and innovation for the $ 1.6 billion federal Sharonview credit union based in Indian Land, South Carolina.