10 Tips for Young Professionals

Portrait of a handsome business leader crossing his arms with his team standing behind him
A couple (OK, fine. Three.) disclaimers right from Jump Street here:

1. I believe much of the generational talk out there acts a lot like a self-fulfilling prophecy. We paint with too broad a brush about this generation or that, and by gosh, wouldn’t you know it? They sometimes tend to maybe in some situations act according to their generational stereotypes.

2. That’s not to say there’s no validity at all to the generational generalizations.

3. And before you’re tempted to chalk this post up to me being some crotchety, cantankerous curmudgeon, please understand that some would consider me part of this generation.

So there. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get to it. From time to time I have the privilege of speaking with young professionals groups. Here are some tips I often share with folks within those contexts.

1. Avoid the Spray and Pray method of finding your next career stop.

Think about what makes you come alive. Consider your skills, abilities, and experience. Now find industries/companies where those things intersect. That’s where you should target your search.

2. Find and utilize professional mentors.

This is an often-overlooked tool not only for professional growth, but also for networking and exposure.

3. Embrace humility.

Stay humble. Stay hungry.

4. Fight perceptions.

Fair or not, your generation is often perceived as lazy, entitled, spoiled, etc. Yeah, it’s a bum rap; but complaining about it isn’t going to help you shatter folks’ preconceived ideas about you.

5. Quit acting like experience doesn’t matter.

Please, please, please don’t allow yourself to succumb to the temptation to take pot-shots at those with more experience than you. Acknowledge the huge benefit there can be in experiencing things in the workplace, and don’t be so quick to equate experience with lack of innovation or some other such nonsense. You hate to be pigeonholed because of your age and experience, so logic would seem to dictate that you shouldn’t pigeonhole others for the same reasons.

6. Advanced degrees are great, but they’re not the meal ticket you’re tempted to think they are.

Pursuing advanced degrees just because you’re not sure what to do is a terrible idea. If you’re not sure what to do, start trying stuff.

7. You’re not Lady Gaga, so quit living for the applause, applause, applause.

This one’s pretty self-explanatory, no?

8. Learn how to think.

And not just think at random. Teach yourself to engage in critical thought, contemplation, and so on.

9. Learn the art of asking questions.

You know, like Socrates.

10. Serve.

Work at being a servant who leads, not someone who merely serves when it’s convenient.

Any tips you’d add to the list? Add them in the comments below.


The Necessity of Accountability



Depending on your experiences and philosophical perspective, that word can conjure a wide variety of feelings, many of which seem similar to that feeling you got in the pit of your stomach when your mom told you to go wait in your room for your dad to get home. However, most of us would likely agree that accountability, at least in some vague, general sense, is a necessary component of healthy teams and organizations.

But here’s the thing. Accountability, rightly understood, is a shared thing between two or more people. It’s not a one-way street. In other words, it is two or more folks holding each other accountable to uphold shared values and/or performance expectations. That sort of accountability can have an amazing and positive impact on a team because it builds trust, promotes healthy conflict, and so on.

Unfortunately, though, accountability is not always thought of in this way. This is an issue that plagues many organizations, often the higher you go on the org chart. Leadership positions, up to and certainly including the CEO, need to have real accountability in place. When leaders don’t have real accountability, they are able to essentially do whatever they’d like. And that can ugly in a hurry.

Imagine a boss who has limited real accountability, and on top of that has a narcissistic personality, is emotionally abusive, and possesses a nearly non-existent moral compass. That boss will likely terrorize those who work for him or her, because what’s to stop him or her? It’s a recipe for disaster.

How do you know there might be a lack of real accountability? Ask yourself the following questions.

What happens when someone raises concerns about a manager, executive, or CEO? Do they end up being victimized as a result of speaking up? 

Are legitimate and concrete corrective actions put in place for managers up to and including the CEO, or are issues routinely swept under the rug and/or rationalized away?

When managers up to and including the CEO see regular turnover on their teams, are the reasons for that turnover really explored? Or are leaders able to simply shrug and chalk it up to what they might call “bad” employees?

Do managers up to and including the CEO insist on accountability for everyone, but then avoid it at all costs themselves? 

Are managers up to and including the CEO able to routinely talk their way out of any potential issues? 

When’s the last time managers up to and including the CEO took full and complete responsibility for things going wrong on their teams? Or is it typically an exercise in deflection and rationalization?

A lack of real accountability usually has a destructive impact on teams and organizations, and the longer bad bosses are allowed to function without real accountability, the longer the organization will suffer the consequences.

You Don’t Have to Wear Skinny Jeans

I want you to try something. Walk around your department or organization, and ask people how creative they are. Say something like “Would you say you’re not as creative as most people, just as creative as most people, or more creative than most people?” 

And then watch them squirm.

It’s an interesting question to hear people answer, both in terms of how they answer the question and why they answer the question the way they do. Most seem to fidget, at least momentarily, or look off into the distance as if the answer were inscribed on some distant wall and they were trying to make it out.

After the pause, you’ll get one of the three options listed in the original question. In their minds, they’re either not as creative as most people, just as creative as most people, or more creative than most people.

The follow-up question, then, is “Why do you think that?”

This is where it seems to get more difficult for folks to answer. The reason for this–at least partly–is that people have all these strange notions in their heads about what “creativity” or “being creative” is. Some people equate creativity with wearing skinny jeans, having unkempt hair, and producing some sort of art, be it on a sheet of music or a piece of canvas. In many minds, that’s a picture of what a creative person is and looks like.

Others have a broader view of creativity. They see creativity as being able to occur on a grand scale or a not-so-grand scale. They see it in pieces of art, and they see it in cleverly constructed spreadsheets. They see it in beautifully-crafted original music, and they note it in how organizations treat and relate to their people.

You see, the thing we’ve got to get our teams and organizations to understand is that most people are creative in some way, shape, or form and to some degree. Most people, given the right environment and tools, can be creative in that they can think of new ways to do things, or time after time find ways to make things that are already good, better.

So one key for leaders, then, is to find ways to create environments for people that allow them to exercise that creativity. Create venues for them to explore their creativity–whatever that looks like for them–and make your team and organization better.

The other key–and this one is likely a prerequisite–is helping your team and organization understand that creativity is about more than wearing skinny jeans. It looks different from person to person, both in its degree and its expression.

As organizations and leaders, it’s incumbent upon us to find ways to unlock the creativity in people, and help them discover things about themselves that they may not yet see.