Millennials now make up more than half of the white-collar workforce in our country. I have recently written elsewhere about their influence, and their potential to make a tremendous contribution in the near future.1 Therefore, I was particularly excited to receive a recent invitation, within our own organization, to speak with approximately a dozen high-potential millennials who are part of an ongoing development and succession planning program within our delivery system. What follows are excerpts from my comments with this amazing group of emerging leaders.
The original invitation asked me to give the millennials pointers about public speaking, recognizing that for the past 2 decades, I have been out and about across our great country with some frequency. However, I didn’t think that pointers about public speaking were really what the millennials were after; rather, I wanted to provide them insights as to how one may become a true “guru,” in the best possible interpretation of that term. I wanted them to recognize that behind a great public speaker is somebody who has certain attributes, and by understanding those attributes, and some of the technical skills involved in delivering a great speech, they may emulate aspects of this behavior to enhance their own careers.
Much has been written about who exactly is a guru, and what the building blocks are to achieve a career that could be characterized as being a guru. My intent with this group was to summarize aspects of the literature, and filter it through my own experience. Consequently, I told them that some of the skills, in my view, that were necessary to become a guru included a high degree of curiosity, and a willingness to read widely not only in one’s field but across a spectrum of topics. I strongly recommended that these very talented young persons read as much as they could about leadership; although there is never a shortage of new books on leadership, there are many classics by persons such as Peter Drucker and John Kotter.
I told them how much I enjoyed reading biographies of famous people, historical and current. I’ve always been interested in autobiographies as well. I found that such books gave me insight into the different leadership styles that persons across the spectrum—men and women—may have utilized. Biographies and autobiographies are a great read if you read between the lines and strive to understand the psychology of the individuals being portrayed. Getting inside a famous person’s head is sometimes a complex exercise.
I also recommended pop culture books, such as Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which describes the key habits that many successful persons exhibit. I’m a big fan of gaining a deeper understanding of one’s own approach, as well as others in the workplace through the use of appropriately administered, well-regarded psychological survey tests, such as the Myers Briggs and related tools. A great book by Otto Kroeger, Janet M. Thuesen, and Hile Rutledge, Type Talk at Work: How the 16 Personality Types Determine Your Success on the Job, uses the well-known Myers Briggs designations and always helped me to get a better grasp of what my direct reports, and more important, the people above me, were thinking.
I am also a fan of Don Miguel Ruiz’s books and his enduring 4 truths, which include (1) assume nothing; (2) always do your best; (3) speak impeccably, which I always interpreted as try very hard to always tell the truth; and (4) don’t take it personally.2 I’m still working on these 4 truths, especially the last one.
Keeping up with the current literature on leadership is best accomplished by reading the Harvard Business Review, a scholarly journal about leadership and management that has been around for decades and has reinvented itself successfully at least 3 times that I can remember in the past 30 years. A good example is the May 2015 article by Guy Kawasaki, a well-known leader at Apple in California, titled “Managing Yourself: The Art of Evangelism.” This is a good article that emerging leaders would enjoy.3
Mr Kawasaki notes that “when you become an effective evangelist…you set an example for other employees. You show that you are a passionate, engaged team member. You inspire your colleagues. And you demonstrate your leadership ability.”3 Who would not want an emerging leader to portray these important characteristics?
What about those public speaking skills—the original reason for the invitation? Well, that’s a complex, lifelong journey, but there are a few take-home messages. Most important, adults learn by listening to stories. So, the best way to become a great public speaker is to learn how to tell a compelling story. Stories lift people up. They also help to connect the dots. Stories are memorable, if told right, and they carry the message you are trying to deliver.
The other building blocks of great public speaking always include (1) preparation, (2) practice, and (3) embracing the classic rules: “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them.”
I reinforced with these young persons that every talk needs at least 1 or 2 take-home messages. Given the information overload that is so prevalent in this generation, I also asked them to consider the provocative question, “Why should I listen to you?” Of course, I said it politely, but I also turned to 2 members of the audience, without warning, and asked them right then and there, in front of their peers, to give me their “career elevator speech”; in other words, to describe what is important to them, and what they want to achieve. I said, “Let’s pretend I am the Chief Executive Officer of our entire enterprise, and you’re caught in an elevator with me for 3 minutes. What message would you like to deliver?” Although they took this on-the-spot assignment good naturedly, I could tell that they were squirming.
What are your insights about the content of a recipe for becoming and maintaining “guru” status? What would you say to a room full of millennials who are looking to you for your insights about your career?
I’ll close with a great adage from one of my Wharton professors from more than 30 years ago, who said early in the first semester of business school in September of 1984, “Always be nice to persons on your way up. You may need them on your way down.” How true indeed!
1. Nash D. A new ‘largest generation’—physicians take note! Millenials relate to healthcare differently than their parents. MedPage Today. December 20, 2016. www.medpagetoday.com/Columns/FocusonPolicy/62189#. Accessed April 18, 2017.
2. Ruiz DM, Mills J. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Publishing; 1997.
3. Kawasaki G. Managing yourself: the art of evangelism. Harv Bus Rev. May 2015:108-111.