“They are a generation of coddled infants who developed into demanding tyrants.”
This quote sounds a lot like the statements I hear veteran board members make about “those damn millennials.” While the line certainly seems to capture a popular sentiment about Millennials, it wasn’t about them at all. Written in 1968 by Lisa Hammel of the New York Times, the quote actually referred to Baby Boomers. Isn’t it funny that so many board members wind up using the same disparaging words that were used to describe them only a few decades ago? How quickly we forget!
As it turns out, most of the complaints that today’s seasoned leaders have about Millennials stem from the same frustrations that previous generations had with the twentysomethings of their own era. Need more proof? Consider the way Susan Littwin described Boomers in her 1987 book, The Postponed Generation:
“(Young people) feel entitled to good times, expensive equipment, and the kind of homes they grew up in. Others believe their rights include instant status, important, meaningful work, and an unspoiled environment. All of them believed they had limitless choices, arrayed like cereals on the market shelves.”
Littwin wasn’t alone in her views. In the same year The Postponed Generation was published, Cheryl Merser had this to say in her book, Grown Ups: A Generation in Search of Adulthood:
“The obvious trappings of growing up – identities, careers, marriage, children, houses…are neither obvious nor automatic, the way they seemed to be for my parents and other adults I knew when I was growing up. [So] a lot of us settle into careers, families, or houses later than men and women did a generation ago, or not at all.”
In the words of French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
Over time, many of us forget the thoughts and hopes and dreams we had in years gone by. At thirty-seven, I’m not immune to this tendency. If I’m not careful, I can find myself judging the next generation—the very people I’m now hiring at YMC. When this happens, I have to remind myself that, like them, I was once 23. My guidance may not keep them from going through all the trials that come with starting a new career, but it can certainly help them avoid some missteps along the way. And if they’re willing to listen when I relay my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned, I consider it a privilege to share.
After seeing the personal benefits of this approach, I think it can be incredibly beneficial for board members and credit union leaders to think back and remember how the credit union helped them decades ago. First auto loans. Basic financial education. Taking a chance on those first-time financing needs. When we take the time to look back, we find an understanding perspective that can help us bridge the generation gap instead of widening it.
Credit unions are in the business of serving their members. They do this by offering reliable savings opportunities and affordable financing for some of life’s most important purchases. When credit unions ask us to help them accomplish their goals, they do so because we have insights that they don’t. We remind all of our clients (and you, hopefully-soon-to-be-client) that writing off an entire generation is silly under any condition—but it’s especially ridiculous when done for the wrong reasons.
You want to complain about Millennials because of the economy they graduated into? Fine. But when you dismiss an entire generation because they exhibit the same behaviors you did decades ago—actions and tendencies that every generation demonstrated when they were in their twenties—it’s especially foolish. If your success comes from serving others, it will be your demise if you dismiss instead of engage or scoff instead of embrace.
During your next strategic planning session, consider this suggestion: Before you dismiss an entire generation because of their behaviors (the same ones you and your board members exhibited not too long ago), think about how you can embrace them and find ways to turn those perceived obstacles into potential opportunities.
From strat plans to rebrands, YMC President and CEO, Bo, is passionate about helping financial institutions come up with a winning formula. If you’re ready to go beyond the SWOT, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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