By JONATHAN YABUT
The millennials (or the Gen-Ys) are the most talked about subjects in management today. Yes, that’s us – people born in the 1980s who will soon lord over the workplace in the next 10 years.
We know we are different. We are tech-savvy and dependent on social media. We have a collaborative and time-flexible approach to work.
We see work beyond pay cheques because more than anything else, we’re after personal fulfilment. We seem to be the perfect workers the world has ever known, right? Hold your horses, maybe we’re wrong.
While our generation seems to be unstoppable as we get inspired by success stories of Mark Zuckerberg or Dong Nguyen, we definitely can improve on many unfavourable traits and habits.
Here are four traits I’ve been guilty of, and most likely you are too:
1 Announcing that you slept at 3am to finish work
Ever heard of work-life balance? That’s probably the one thing your boss has been trying to achieve too.
It’s true that your boss appreciates that you’ve chugged bottles of Red Bull to get that presentation submitted on time, but he/she will be more impressed if you can achieve the elusive work-life balance.
I admire an employee who doesn’t need to burn the midnight oil to get work done. She knows which things to prioritise – so she can spend more time on the “life” part.
She takes time off to travel and experience new cultures, making her more creative and open-minded at work. She’s competitive and collaborative because she has time for sports. She definitely sleeps better too.
Yes, we do have all the energy to work longer hours (and the nerve to brag about it) but the sad thing is that I’m not sure if we’re working smart enough to get things done.
Working smart is different from working hard. And please, working 15 hours a day when three hours are spent on Facebook makes me cringe.
2 Resisting to ask questions during meetings to avoid looking like a fool
My marketing career started as a trainee in a telecommunications company. In this job, I had to understand technical jargons: VAS, churn, USSD, codecs, and what not.
I was the adored management trainee who was hired among thousands of applicants because they all thought I was a smart know-it-all, right? So I pretended to be one.
An engineer would ask me, “Maybe we should switch the network from PSTN to VOIP so we can increase the ARPU”, and I casually answered with no idea, “Yeah, maybe we should try that.”
I am thankful I’ve grown wiser. I always ask questions the moment I get confused. I ask questions to pre-empt problems and challenges along the way – and before they get worse.
Besides, asking a question doesn’t make you stupid. It means you’re curious and attentive to details. It means you are listening. It means you are taking the task seriously and you don’t want to leave any stone unturned.
Most importantly, it means you are humble, and that you are aware that you don’t know everything but are willing to learn to do better at your job.
To quote the astrophysicist Reina Reyes: “We ask questions not because they matter. We do it because it matters that we ask questions.”
3 Taking sole credit for an achievement
I live by the philosophy that there is no “I” in “team”. For every milestone I achieve, I always feel indebted to someone (even if it was the person’s job to assist me).
At the age of 25, I was a senior brand manager with two juniors reporting to me. One time, my team was assigned to prepare a 50-slide presentation for the chief executive officer (CEO). My two managers diligently helped me finish the deck.
My boss and the CEO were impressed after the presentation. My boss took me out for a dinner treat that night. When I arrived at the restaurant, she asked me if I came alone.
“Are we expecting someone else?” I asked.
“I knew you wouldn’t bring your team. But how I wish I could also pat them on their backs for a job well done. You didn’t finish the slides by yourself right?” she snapped as she taught a lesson I remember up to this day.
We all want to get credit for our achievements, and in wanting to be in the spotlight, we end up forgetting (and sometimes, deliberately discrediting) the people who have been instrumental to our success.
Great leaders always recognise the unsung heroes. They want managers who are not insecure in their power and who can praise and develop others to become like them. After all, the real work of a leader is to produce more leaders.
4 Keeping critical information to yourself
Here’s a pet peeve that I have about millennials: hiding or keeping information so you can use it to impress senior managers, and (again) get promoted.
You may have heard your boss advising you to “wear a corporate hat”. Wearing one means championing projects that will not just benefit your own career, but the company as a whole.
I worked in a marketing department previously where brand managers had the liberty to choose their own advertising agencies as our projects were small.
One time, a colleague of mine discovered that a reputable agency was offering discounted services. He kept the information to himself thinking he would be known as the brand manager who spent the least.
Well, congratulations to him if he was after that crown – it only took days for our boss (whom he was targeting to impress) to lament that the entire team would have saved more money if he had shared the information.
Wearing a corporate hat doesn’t mean being the sacrificial lamb at all times, it’s appreciating that small details, when shared, can really impact the company. When scouting for future leaders, senior managers look for millennials who understand the value of standing back, and not just standing out.
At the end of the day…
I honestly don’t think we’ll be able to change these traits easily because this is the very essence of who we are. They’re the imperfect reasons why we’re called the Gen-Ys.
It doesn’t hurt to admit them, fight the feeling from time to time, and change, hopefully for good. I came up with this list because I noticed these traits among my young colleagues – only to discover my bosses think of the same about me.
I guess the father of analytical psychology Carl Jung best summarises this with his quote: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
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Published in The Star on 4 October 2014.
Jonathan is the winner of The Apprentice Asia and is currently based in Kuala Lumpur as the managing director of The JY Ventures & Consultancy. He is also an author of the book From Grit to Great, and a Leaderonomics faculty partner.