After nearly twenty years of speculation about the imminent rise of the ‘millennials’, can we finally stop? Millenials aren’t coming, they’ve been here for years, and now they’re starting to run the shop. The latest example is Austria’s new head of government Sebastian Kurz, who at the tender age of 31 has just become the youngest leader of a nation state*.
Kurz joins entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg as a poster child for millennial leadership. All we need now is for a Gen Y-er to rise through the corporate heirarchy to run a FTSE 100 or Fortune 500 company, and the set will be complete. At that point, it will be time to plug your ears to the deafening prophecies about ‘Generation Z’.
In the meantime, if you are a millennial leader or are indeed going to be led by one, you may find this piece from April 2016 useful. It’s from 22-year old Jordan Daykin, who co-founded his business GripIt Fixings at the tender age of 13, and successfully pitched on Dragon’s Den only five years later.
*San Marino’s Vanessa D’Ambrosio was 28 during her tenure as one of the city state’s Captains-Regent, but her term just ended. Also, San Marino is really, really small.
The number of people under 35 starting up their own business has jumped by as much as 70 per cent in the past five years in the UK. In some ways, you could argue it’s the best time to go for it – you’re confident, resilient and ready to give everything a go.
But entering the business world as a young entrepreneur – in my case, at just 13 years old – comes with its challenges for sure. And one of the biggest hurdles I faced when my business and team were expanding was learning how to command the respect of those older than me.
It’s not easy. At the beginning, I was so conscious of my age that I’d ask my grandfather to drop me off around the corner from meetings. If I’d admitted to investors at the time that I wasn’t allowed to drive myself home, I’m not sure how seriously they’d have taken me.
So how do you get past this and assert your authority while reassuring your workforce that young doesn’t mean incapable? Here are a few things I’ve learnt along the way.
1. Speak up for yourself
You don’t have years of wisdom on your side, and you’ll probably meet some resistence as a younger person delegating work, but don’t let that scare you into being led – otherwise, your employees will end up calling the shots, pulling you in all sorts of directions even if they mean well.
I certainly didn’t have the experience when I founded GripIt, so what I lacked in skills I made up for by knowing my strategy inside out. If there were problems along the way, I knew how to address them head on and who was accountable for the work. I established boundaries within my team, and I stuck to my guns when making decisions, projecting my confidence in what I was doing.
If you show you have purpose and a clear goal, it’s hard for people to dismiss – even, say, when a product demo goes wrong in front of a group of investors. But if you waiver, you’ll look like a deer in headlights.
2. Embrace the expertise in your midst
Establishing your authority doesn’t mean slamming your employees down or ignoring their ideas – you might be setting the course, but without every member of the team working together towards a common goal as respected equals, your ship won’t be sailing anywhere.
When I started GripIt, I was rolling up my sleeves and trying my hand at every task I could to prove that I appreciated how integral my employee’s roles were to the overall workings of the company. At the end of the day, if you’ve got experienced professionals working alongside you, celebrate and make quick like a sponge!
Giving your employees the freedom to use their skills and progress the business in their domain is also crucial to retaining great talent, though make sure you get final say to ensure everything is aligned with your ultimate vision. This type of mentor relationship has worked incredibly well for me particularly with Deborah Meaden, who has really helped to shape my understanding of business while supporting my ambitions for GripIt.
3. Never stop people from learning
I read a great article once that said 'There’s a difference between 20 years of experience, and one year of experience 20 times.' I’m fortunate to have some amazing profressionals in my force, but it’s always been important to me that everyone feels challenged and that their career can really progress with GripIt.
You’re never too old to learn new skills, so don’t put people in a box and assume they’re happy doing more of the same. GripIt invests a lot into helping our employees discover new areas of interest and expertise – in fact, our head of global sales & marketing started off as a telesales executive.
As a society, we naturally couple age with experience, and experience with the ability to lead, so breaking down those barriers can be hard. But conviction, respect and understanding can go a long way, so if you can be confident in yourself without being too tunnel-visioned, you’ll win the sceptics over in time.
Image credit: Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äußeres