Future millennial CEOs: Keep these career lessons in mind

Looking for inspiration.
Looking for inspiration.
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The book Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future tells the story of how Musk became one of the world’s most audacious and celebrated entrepreneurs. Sheryl Sandberg shares her reflections on rising up the ranks at Facebook in Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. And PayPal founder Peter Thiel has set out his lessons on how to build a better future in Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.

These career advice books are, like the majority of them, written from the mountaintop. The subjects and authors are at the apex of their careers and at a time in their lives when they couldn’t be further removed from professionals early in their career—tomorrow’s millennial CEOs.

Francesco Marconi, a twenty-something young professional who works as a strategist at Associated Press, has been plowing through career advice books for years, but found they offered little advice for early career progress.

“These books are light-years removed from the early days of climbing the proverbial corporate ladder, and a little out of touch with folks like myself who are still on a journey to make an impact at work and in the world,” Marconi tells Quartz.

That’s why he started to write down his own career journey in a diary, including all the trials and tribulations he comes across in the workplace.

Despite the numerous self-help and career advice publications that are already out there, Marconi’s diary, titled Frankly Speaking, became an instant viral hit when it was published on Medium.

“We are going through an important mindset shift, that in some circumstances may cause a clash of generations in the workplace. The success of Frankly Speaking could be an indicator that the values listed in the playbook, that present ideas around empathy, collaboration and purpose, will be important drivers for tomorrow’s business leaders,” Marconi says.

So what are the career principles around which the success of the next generation of millennial CEOs might be crafted?

The “why” outweighs the “what”

The concept of doing work with a purpose, which offers young career professionals personal fulfillment has grown increasingly more important. The appeal of joining a big company and working overtime to get the “manager” stamp on your business card has faded. Rather than working 60-plus hours a week to get a promotion, young career professionals work on causes that speak to their imagination. There’s a reason that the TEDx talk “How to find work you love,” by Scott Dinsmore, founder of the Live Your Legend community, has been watched nearly 3 million times. Or that Escape the City, a company that helps young professionals to escape corporate jobs to find a job with meaning, has grown into a community numbering nearly a quarter of a million people. “Young people want to improve on the status quo. They want to create impact,” Marconi says.

Disconnect to connect

Billionaire Ray Dalio, the founder of hedge fund behemoth Bridgewater Associates, says meditation allows him to be an independent thinker. He’s one of many executives that swears by it. They value the importance of disconnecting in order to be able to (re)connect, and thus, be successful. The importance of implementing so called “zen habits” into your life, as self help writer Leo Babauta defines them, is ever more important at a time of global connectivity.

Empathy is important

One of Richard Branson’s drivers for success is: “Speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” If you want to win over a broader audience, show respect to whoever is in front of you, Harvard professor John Kotter argues.

“Professional success will be based on empathy and how well individuals are able to relate to those around them,” Marconi says. Although technology makes it easier to get to know someone in advance, decisions about people’s willingness to work with someone will ultimately be based on emotions.

One way of stimulating your empathy levels with others is to always look for opportunities to celebrate someone’s success. Think of organizing office parties when a colleague gets a promotion, for birthdays or when an employee gets engaged. “One act of kindness can create an opportunity for people to talk about you in a positive way,” Marconi says. The power of expressing gratitude shouldn’t be underestimated as a way to boost people’s self-worth, make them feel valued and trigger their willingness to help, research from the American Psychological Association found. Indeed, the effort to end a conversation or exchange with a genuine “thank you” takes very little effort for the long term pay off you’ll receive.

I (th)ink, therefore I am

If you write down your goals, you’re 42% more likely to achieve them, says research (pdf) done by psychologist Gail Matthews at Dominican University.

Marconi recalls a story from a friend: “A girl I know wanted to get a promotion at an advertising agency she worked at. She wrote the name of the new position on a post-it and put it on her desk to look at it every single day. She identified steps to get there: (1) get more face time with senior managers and clients, i.e. by developing PowerPoint presentations and present them; (2) be more pro-active, i.e. by pitching more projects to her boss; (3) show leadership, i.e. by training her summer intern as best as she could. Her manager took notice and ended up promoting her.”

Not only does writing down your goals hold you more accountable, but it also forces you to figure out what you want.

Inspiration leads to success

Inspiration is a measure of success. Because of global connectivity, millennials have access to unlimited sources of inspiration. “Millennials build mosaics of inspiration from different individual pieces. They might admire a business man in the US, respect a politician in Europe and esteem a community advocate in Asia at the same time,” Marconi says. “Choose people you look up to, set your sights on becoming like them and let them provide you with life inspiration.”

Tools that can help you along the path to becoming like your sources of inspiration include “acknowledging forward,” or giving coworkers their due credit, something that has proven to be extremely important when it comes to driving individual performance.

Say “no” to say “yes”

According to a study by Andrew Przybylski from Oxford University people whose major psychological needs, including feeling loved and accepted, are not being met, will experience higher levels of FOMO—short for “fear of missing out.” Social media has made it easier than ever to engage with others but also confronts us more than ever with everything we’re missing out on.

“Don’t let FOMO leave you chasing every opportunity that comes your way. Choose quality over quantity and be selective about the events you attend, because, as Ted Mosby reminds us, nothing good happens after 2 am anyway,” Marconi says. Being selective about the projects you’re taking on allows you to guarantee the quality of your work, and thus your reputation. Marconi: “If you can’t bring value to work you’re offered, shut it down with a powerful but polite ‘no thanks.’”

Continuous personal growth, being inspired and thus energized will be essential values for millennials as they rise to the top. How this mind-shift about the purpose of careers will be able to change the future the work place remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: it’s no longer what it used to be.