Taking Risks on Both Sides of the Bridge Leads to a Goldmine of Possibilities
By: Misti Burmeister

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

People, regardless of level or generation, have the same basic desires. They all want to be respected, appreciated, have opportunities to grow and learn, and be compensated appropriately.

As a leader, the long-term success of your organization depends on the success of your employees. Their success can, and will, only add to the success of your organization. Even more than taking the time to mentor and coach your employees, be willing to take risks with them. Their competence may surprise you.

Illustrating these concepts is a true story about Lucy, a young college student and her internship experience:

“Like many Generation Y’ers, I was eager to get my foot in the door and tackle big projects. I wanted to see what it was like to work with high profile clients and solve large, complex problems. Mainly, I sought the internship because I felt that I could gain valuable experiences for my eventual career in Management Consulting. However, I thought about the internship only as a steppingstone to my ultimate goal, as opposed to a generally valuable learning experience.

“Early on in my internship, I was frustrated because I expected to work alongside top executives on projects with clients, thinking that these projects would offer me the most opportunity for learning and growth. Instead, I was working on projects that I thought had little importance, and little relevance to my career goals, such as online research and other office tasks. I expected such tasks, but I did not expect them to be the majority of my work at this company. (This is an experience that many of my classmates have also expressed as interns. I have learned that our expectations are not necessarily the reality.)”

Lucy had made assumptions about the internship and experienced disappointment as a result. Truly, her experience and expectations as an intern were not unlike that of many young professionals newly employed in an organization. And, like many young professionals, Lucy had not communicated her desires or her goals, and when she finally did, she did not seek out ways to get those goals and desires met.

Her manager, Melissa, had initial thoughts in their coaching session, “Lucy has expressed a desire to be included on ‘high-powered’ projects, yet her actions haven’t demonstrated that desire. I cannot bring her into confidential meetings with potential or existing clients without first being certain that she has a firm commitment to the company and a solid understanding of our vision/mission. I need to be certain that Lucy is willing to do what’s necessary to get the experiences she says she desires.”

Melissa assured me that, “Without question, Lucy is an incredibly talented young woman… And her talents really show up when she applies herself. My perception is that, as a result of her multiple involvements, everything she does gets muted attention.”

To create common ground, Melissa and Lucy had a meeting where they opened themselves to growth. This was a courageous move that produced great results. They realized that they had each been making assumptions, rather than communicating their goals and concerns. They resolved to communicate more regularly and to question their assumptions. Lucy expressed her goals and desires, and Melissa suggested ways that at least some of those desires could be attained.

As a result of their willingness to dig deep and communicate their issues, there have been dramatic improvements with Lucy on following through with her commitments and being accountable. Lucy also discovered that she is learning more than she had anticipated from this internship, and in different areas than she originally expected.

After this bit of improvement on the part of Lucy, a gap still remained between what she said that she wanted, and her actions. One of her requests was to attend a very important meeting with a potential high-powered client. Melissa was reticent to agree, but Lucy’s direct supervisor, encouraged the Melissa to reconsider. Melissa eventually agreed only upon Lucy completing certain preparations within a specified timeframe. To everyone’s surprise, Lucy fulfilled the criteria superbly, attended the meeting and gave an exceptional presentation to the potential client.

Take time to consider your career goals, share them with a trusted mentor and look for ways to reach your goals while supporting your organization/team. For example, if your desire, like Lucy, is to be the lead on a major project and you have only been with the company a short time (3-6 months), you might consider what experiences you could gain to prepare yourself for success in such a project. Ask your manager what experiences/skills are required in order to be the lead on a project.

Demonstrating your ability with smaller, less visible tasks, helps managers to see your capabilities and increases their comfort level in giving you more visible, larger projects.

If your goal is to stand above the crowd and build strong relationships with seasoned professionals, change your language from “all about me” to “all about your organization.” When you show up consistently and look for ways to support your team/organization, you will be thought of as a reliable, hard working employee.

Your reputation will follow you. You never know, perhaps a current boss or colleague may know your future boss very well. You will also gain support from the seasoned professionals around you — they will help you get what you “suddenly” realize you want.

Leaders who open communication channels with young professionals are bound to discover a gold mine of possibilities. If you, as a leader, are frustrated with one of your employees, I encourage you to consider that there may simply be a misunderstanding. Melissa’s willingness to listen to Lucy’s frustration was key to the success of their newfound respect. Melissa could easily have stood her ground in her righteousness and, instead, chose to open up and find a solution with Lucy. Where can you create common ground?

There are many more solution-oriented accounts in Misti’s new book From Boomers To Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations, available through Synergy Press Online in March 2008.