The Fortune 500 Insider Network is an online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Drew Saad, head of strategic planning and execution at Farmers Insurance, has answered the question: What can 20-somethings do to set themselves up for success?
Whether you’re a millennial or otherwise, achieving career success is often tied to your brand. Personal brand encompasses many things—reputation, accomplishments, and just about anything people associate with you. Imagine you’re being recruited for a lateral move in the company and the hiring manager calls your boss. In that conversation, what would be discussed and shared about you? The answer to that question forms the essence of your brand.
Millennials can face unique challenges in establishing their personal brands, especially within large, multi-generational companies. But executives across industries are increasingly thinking about creating leadership opportunities for the next generation of talent, and they often weigh a millennial’s readiness by considering particular attributes. In my experience, there are three elements of a personal brand that can significantly impact a millennial’s career success:
Millennials bring unique skills to the workplace from growing up in a highly connected and technologically enabled world. Regardless, you are not the better decision maker because you type faster on your iPhone than your boss does pecking on a keyboard. Although you are likely to bring capabilities to the table that prior generations do not, the reverse is also true. Navigating this dynamic with humility is the key to developing mutual respect.
Fairly or not, the millennial generation is often broadly perceived as entitled. Demonstrating a lack of humility will only reinforce that assumption. However, the benefits of humility go far beyond defeating stereotypes. Firstly, humility allows you to expand intellectually. A healthy curiosity will help you uncover greater insights, learn new things, and make better decisions. If you aren’t questioning your thinking and assumptions, you may end up ignoring well-informed advice, overlooking mistakes, and ultimately missing out on development opportunities. Secondly, humility enables influence. People enjoy working with open-minded managers and colleagues who value the opinions of others. By appreciating diverse thinking and genuinely seeking input, you can win support to achieve your goals. Few know-it-alls will enjoy the same.
Generally speaking, your early years will be the most flexible of your life. As time passes, our ability to travel, move, change jobs, and build new skills becomes increasingly impeded by a growing set of commitments and obligations. Through several long-term international assignments, I’ve been afforded unique experiences that broadened my skills and forever shaped the way I think. The developmental benefits of joining a new team or a different department can hardly be matched, but these become increasingly difficult to entertain as your career advances.
Make a point of expressing your adaptability and willingness to people of influence. By planting the seed in the mind of a mentor or manager, you position yourself to be part of the conversation when talent is being considered for potential opportunities. Instead of needing to kick doors down on your own, you’ll find others opening them on your behalf. This can lead to a broader world of possibilities, including doors that you didn’t even know existed. And you can always say no, but if nobody knows you’re willing to say yes, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be offered the chance to do so.
Of all of the traits mentioned, I believe patience to be the hardest for my generation. Millennials are quick to note the failed structures and outdated processes that are all too slow to change. They join a company, intuitively determine what needs to happen, and quickly become frustrated with the slow progress. The pace of a large company can pale in comparison to the speed of change and instant gratification in other areas of life. Unfortunately, prior generations may dismiss a millennial’s appetite for faster change as naïve at best, or deluded at worst.
Millennials can add significant value by being eager to innovate and affect change, but it’s equally important to understand what effective change entails. Change isn’t easy, and often requires more than meets the eye. I do not say this to discourage—younger generations should be a major catalyst for change, as they stand to reap the future benefits that come with it. There is rarely a good excuse for apathy or obstinacy, but without the contextual awareness and perspective that comes with hard-earned experience, it can be difficult to understand the importance of thoughtful change management. Defining the end game is only one piece of the puzzle—convincing people why and how to get there is the heart of success. A famous quote from UCLA basketball coach John Wooden comes to mind: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” As a champion of change, your patience will ensure better outcomes. But more importantly for millennials, it will show maturity and readiness for bigger challenges.