Millennial Toolkit: The ABCDs of Rising to the Top as a Millennial

Advice from senior leaders

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Contrary to popular opinion, Millennials are not lazy. In fact, one of the most common reasons for Millennials to job hop is to find better development opportunities.

Dr Danusia Malina-Derben is a well-known advisor to many high-profile C-suite executives and boards. Her international consultancy practice works with corporate leaders to help them realise their full potential. We approached Danusia for advice on how Millennials can develop themselves to rise to the top.

First of all, Danusia offers the views of several C-Suiters when asked about what they thought of Millennnials:

  • “They care more about their purpose. 20 years ago when the majority of my clients were young professionals, they were not overly concerned with why they were doing their job and the impact it has. Millennials see the bigger picture.”
  • “Millennials, in the main, are not prepared to sacrifice their ‘life’ outside of work just to get ahead. Using the stick and dangling the reward of becoming a partner if you put in long hours – doesn’t work for these Millennials.”
  • “Millennials are pushing for non-traditional career models – which is positive because I think it’s encouraging diversity and a culture of change and innovation in the workplace.”
  • “[I] Noticed that Millennials are more concerned with corporate social responsibility than previous generations.They want to see how CSR is actionable in their roles in a tangible sense.”
  • “[Millennials have a] different relationship to commitment and sacrifice.”

Senior executives realise that Millennials have very different expectations for their career compared to themselves. Danusia offers Millennials the following advice on what it takes to rise to the top:

[A]ctively build your resilience

  • Why it is important: Failure is part of the journey to the top and successful leaders are not the ones who have never experienced failure, but the ones who bounce back from it quickly.
  • What it means for you: Find stretch assignments (e.g., projects abroad), and challenge yourself to sign up for activities that push your comfort zone (e.g., lead a pro-bono project at a charity).

[B]uild strong connections so that you get honest feedback

  • Why it is important: Studies show that Millennials hunger for more feedback. Investing time and effort into building trusting and engaging relationships means that you will get more honest and helpful feedback.
  • What it means for you: Think of 3 people who you can get feedback from (think upwards, sideways, downwards) and ask them for positive and constructive feedback. Also, give them feedback that would help them and propose meeting regularly to exchange honest feedback.

“[C]ommand & Control”and Collaborative – develop a fluid leadership style

  • Why it is important: In the past, senior leaders led with a “command and control” style. Recently, it has been suggested that this style is outdated and that a more collaborative approach should be used instead. Danusiasuggests that it is important to be able to use both styles. Strong leaders seek collaboration when it adds value to the decision-making process but does not shy away from making tough decisions.
  • What it means for you: Consider a project or initiative you are working on with your team and think of an issue that has been discussed and debated for a long time (possibly too long!) – make a decision on that issue.

[D]evelop Gravitas

  • Why it is important: Gravitas is a projection of strength and a way to command respect from others. This includes a physical element (i.e., body language) and the way you interact with other people. In a time when ideas are frequently crowdsourced and we are all connected via social media, Millennials may not be used to boldly announcing their views. Note that it does not mean that you have to be the loudest person in the room.
  • What it means for you: Sit up! Use your backbone. Body language is a powerful way to communicate – studies suggest that non-verbal communication is more important than verbal communication. When you attend an event, introduce yourself to someone you want to speak with. Conduct a “Gravitas Audit” – ask 30 friends to score you on how much gravitas you are displaying.

For more advice from Danusia, visit her website, connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter.

For more career resources from acadeMe, follow @WeAreAcademe on Twitter.

About the author May Kwong:

May is the co-founder of acadeMe. We are a women-led start up that coaches millennials and young professionals to identify their purpose and navigate the workplace effectively. We love talking about the power of feedback and building networks.


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