by Erica Dhawan
I’m a Millennial. Like many of my peers, I want more responsibility and visibility in my job, and I want to move faster in my career. This desire is not about wanting more money or feeling entitled. It’s about wanting to have an impact on a world that is politically charged, economically volatile and culturally divided.
At work, however, Millennials are still being shut out of the corporate conversation – we’re told sit down, be quiet and do as we’re told. But this is a mistake: In today’s hyper-connected world, Millennials are in the perfect position to create new possibilities for global and local impact that nobody could have imagined 10 years ago.
Every day, Millennials are reaching exponential levels of connectedness. My fellow Millennials curate TEDx events via webcasts that reach millions, or start social businesses blending profit and purpose, like Toms Shoes and Warby Parker. They use social sharing tools to reach new audiences. They crowdfund innovative projects in the developing world with Kickstarter and other platforms. And they participate in user-driven development for products at forward-thinking companies like Nike Design and Lego Factory.
But not every company sees the value in this – yet.
Leadership expert and Forbes columnist Saj-nicole Joni wrote recently that Millennials want to unleash what she and I are calling “connectional intelligence” already evident in these and a thousand other ways. Connectional intelligence (CxQ) is the ability to make sense and enable breakthroughs by connecting ideas, people, information, and resources, and to sift through various sources of information and put pieces of a puzzling problem together in new ways. It’s not limited by time, place or space.
Connectional intelligence is a terrible thing to waste. If Millennials really want to leverage it in our careers, however, we need to reach across generations in a radically different way. The onus is on us to demonstrate how our skills in making connections, creating content and collaborating can make our companies – and the world – a better place.
To do so, instead of demanding work-life balance, free food and gym programs, we need to demand a seat at the table so that our connectional intelligence doesn’t get left at the door. In the second decade of the 21st century, companies can no longer afford to dismiss innovative ideas from anyone, least of all their most connected employees and leaders.
So how do you, as a Millennial, get your CEO to pay attention?
Take Jane, a Stanford undergraduate who joined a strategy consulting firm after graduation and quickly realized there was greater potential for her to make an impact in the company. Eight months into the job, she discovered a new multi-milllion dollar client opportunity. She knew working on this project could offer an avenue for her to grow and make a greater contribution.
Jane’s strategy was not to sit down and wait. Instead, she took these 3 steps:
1. Actively listen for opportunities.
Jane listened for opportunities to use her resources and knowledge to show the contribution she could make to the account. “I knew there was no way to get anywhere with the partner on the account by saying, ‘This is what I’m going to do,’” she told me. She used her connectional intelligence to reach both junior and senior colleagues across the company online and offline; she also sought out former employees of the firm for advice on getting on the client team.
2. Marshal resources to contribute.
Jane went online to do research about the prospective client, and used social media to actively understand how she could apply her skill set to the client’s needs. “I approached a lot of people,” Jane said. “I knew the best the way to get on the account was to learn from others and first understand: what is best for the client and my employer, and how can I maximize my best use at the company?”
3. Ask for your seat at the table.
After talking to a number of people, Jane introduced herself to the partner in charge of the account and made her case to get on the client case. The partner was initially surprised by her research and assertive attitude, but realized how committed Jane was and quickly asked her to join the account. Eventually Jane became the go-to person for the client – and later, the lead consultant – all because she listened for the opportunity and gathered her own resources first. As a result, she was also able to influence the organization’s long-term strategic vision.
Jane’s pitch specifically showed her superiors how her skills could grow the company and support the partner. Her experience is proof positive that we can’t expect anything to change if we don’t ask for a different type of dialogue first.
In the end, Millennials need to make sure that our ideas, passion and energy don’t get lost, beaten down and forgotten. To make that change happen, we need to make ourselves heard first. If not for our own sakes, then for the sake of future generations.
Erica Dhawan is a globally recognized leadership expert, Gen Y keynote speaker, advisor to Fortune 500 companies and researcher at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership. Her work with Gen-Y leaders and future-thinking companies changes the world. Learn more at ericadhawan.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.