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Mentoring key to changing of the guard


Over the next couple of decades our industry will face a deeply transformative changing of the guard. As baby boomers and then Gen Xers – the people who shaped the current face of commercial transportation – retire, the reins of power will be handed to the millennials.

Will the millennials be up to the task? The talk amongst many of my generation is that millennials will not. Many of my generation may not say it out loud but privately they believe millennials are too spoiled, too immature for their age and too unwilling to put in the long hours of hard work necessary for success.

Personally, I find such comments rather funny, considering they have been said of every new generation going back more than 2,000 years. The same was said of the baby boomers when they first entered the workplace with long hair and the perceived looser work ethic of the “hippie generation.”

Based on my own experience in hiring and working with millennials, I believe they bring incredibly valuable talents to the workplace. But I also believe the baby boomer and Gen-Xer generations in our industry have an obligation to help millennials harness and develop these talents and prepare them for leadership positions.

And I believe we have a great opportunity to do so through mentoring because millennials have shown they are considerably more interested in working with mentors than previous generations. Just as baby boomers and Gen-Xers we grew up cherishing the independence of finding out answers on our own, millennials have grown up in a world where social media makes it second nature to seek advice. Got a question? Post it on your Facebook page or LinkedIn and very quickly the advice rolls in.

So millennials have already bought into the notion that they should be seeking the advice of more experienced co-workers. But mentoring has to happen in a way that fits the unique needs of millennials.

As Monica Higgins, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, counsels, millennials don’t want to turn to a single person within their company for career support. They instead prefer to seek short-term, informal relationships with several mentors. So a mandatory corporate mentorship may feel forced and unauthentic.

Mentoring should also not be a one-way conversation. We were raised in a culture where children were to be seen and not heard. But we ended up teaching our children – today’s millennials – that their ideas are important, that what they have to say has value. So they expect to be heard, even if they lack experience, and if you don’t listen you won’t have their respect. That’s why reverse mentoring, where millennials are engaged in mentoring more senior staff in areas they are more adept, such as technology, makes sense. I am seeing this unfold within my own company where one of our younger employees is helping train older and more senior employees with our new CRM installation.

Baby boomer and Generation X managers have a pivotal role to play in preparing millennials for the changing of the guard. But don’t be surprised if we end up learning a thing or two from the people we take under our wing.


Lou Smyrlis

Lou Smyrlis

With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics.
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