How Millennials Can Transform Into Leaders

by Staff - Original publish date: September 8, 2014

How does the new generation of workers transform itself into leaders? In her new book, Becoming the Boss, Lindsey Pollak offers Generation Y readers advice to help them grow from team members to team leaders not only in the organizations they work for or the startups they run, but also personally, in managing their own careers. Pollak is here to share some of that advice, with special angles for introverts.

NA: What got you to write Becoming the Boss?

LP: I wrote my previous book, Getting from College to Career, to help young professionals succeed in landing their first jobs out of college. I had struggled with that experience, so I wrote the book I wish I had had when I graduated. I wrote Becoming the Boss because all of those young professionals who read GFCTC are now stepping up into leadership and management positions and they have begun asking me for advice on that next step in their career journey. I also wrote this book because I'm frustrated by the common portrayal of Millennials as "entitled," narcissistic and overall a "lost" generation. I believe very strongly that today's young people have tremendous potential, but they do need some guidance on "soft skills," such as face-to-face communication, work ethic, and professional patience. This book is my attempt to provide that guidance and support to this huge generation of our world's future leaders.

NA: You say that career fear—everything from the fear of failure to the fear of success—is totally natural. How do you recommend that aspiring leaders move forward, despite their fears?

LP: I'm far from the first person to say it, but the best advice is to "feel the fear and do it anyway." One of my goals in the book is to show young leaders that most everyone feels nervous, apprehensive, unconfident and scared when they take on a leadership or management position. What's important is to remember that you were promoted or became a leader for a reason, and there are many mentors, supporters, friends, books, and blogs around to support you every step of the way. Leadership is a skill like any other—you start as a novice and—with time, hard work and a lot of practice—you get better and better.

NA: You offer networking tips for introverts that include asking for referrals, being polite, and reaching out online—all of which make good use of our quiet strengths. You also encourage introverts to ask questions and use their keen ability to listen more than talk to build relationships. We’re clearly on the same page! Can you give an example of how an up-and-coming leader can put these tips into action?

LP: Absolutely—half of leaders are introverts, so there is no reason shy or introverted people can't be phenomenal leaders if they use their unique strengths. One of the top tips in the book for new leaders is to take the time early in your leadership role to meet one-on-one with everyone who directly reports to you (or all of your "stakeholders," whoever those might be in your particular role.) In my experience, introverts often thrive in one-on-one situations and—as you mentioned—are excellent listeners, so this is a great way for the introverted leader to learn a lot about each person on his or her team and, at the same time, to build strong relationships. There is no law saying that a leader needs to be loud, gregarious and have a lot of big group meetings. You have to do that sometimes, but if you thrive in smaller groups and one-on-ones, then have more of those.

NA: Becoming the Boss includes a useful section titled “Networking with VIPs.” How do you recommend Millennials reach out to those who are more—even much more—established and successful than themselves?

LP: The most important strategies are to research the VIP extensively before reaching out (e.g., read their blog, follow them on Twitter, read their LinkedIn profile, read articles about them) and to reach out in a polite, professional way that shows you've done your homework on this person and you won't waste his or her time. You also want to make your "ask" something that won't feel like a burden to the person. For instance, request a 15-minute phone chat rather than an in-person coffee meeting. If the call goes well, you can hopefully build up to an in-person meeting in the future.

NA: Your book has a terrific quiz to help readers identify their management style. Included in the quiz are compelling multiple choice questions like: “When you’re the boss, you want to be: a) feared; b) respected; c) fair; d) the right balance of friendly and aloof.” How can learning your management style help you make decisions as a leader? What is special or different about the management styles of Millennials? How about of introverts?

LP: Knowing your management style helps you know your tendencies. For instance, if you answered this particular question by saying you want to be feared (and kudos for your honesty!), then if you are facing a particularly sensitive situation, such as helping a really talented staff member with a challenging client situation, you might decide to tone down the "fear me!" vibe. For introverts, you might know—as discussed above—that big, public presentations are not your forte, so you will spend more time practicing and preparing for them.

NA: You say in your book: “When you raise your hand for leadership, you are, to a certain extent, opening yourself up to public scrutiny and criticism.” What advice do you have for Generation Y leaders, particularly those who are introverts, about the nonstop scrutiny that happens to those who are more visible in their careers?

LP: The classic advice is not to do anything—in public or when you think you are in private—that you wouldn't want to see on the front page of The New York Times. This is even more crucial for Millennial leaders, whose every move may be Tweeted or Instagrammed. Part of being a leader in today's world is knowing, for better or worse, that people are watching you.

NA: Thank you for sharing these gems, Lindsey. Godspeed on your new book!