My youngest sister and partner Virginia and myself

How to protect young people from being hurled out of the business game

The decision of partnering with my youngest sister, a creative and kicking designer born in the late eighties strongly motivated me to find a way:

  • to have our own way being together;
  • to stay by her side as her older sister;
  • to set her free;
  • to learn from her.

Even if I can count on years of experience in managing people, I still face the difficulty of combining motherly support and business pressure. The eye-opening lunch with the cute 20 something reminded me of the many conversations with my youngest sister, suggesting a generational theme. If so, I hope that sharing my learnings may be of help to other 40 somethings who are in daily exchange with 20 somethings like me.

The Story

Friday, lunchtime. Serendipity corners me, again. In the middle of starting up at almost 40, I find myself talking with a cute 20 something who hopes to find answers to the same questions that the business world is asking. Unaware (and disinterested) of the facts of the world, my young 20 something lunch companion, shares his personal mix of doubts and vision with me. He hates, he loves, he believes, he wants, he will never and always, he doesn’t know but he’s convinced, he is insecure, but he knows… I listen. I ask. I listen again. I ask again, over and over, until a pattern shows up.

  • I get different answers to the same question;
  • my 20 something lunch companion reacts with the same discomfort to all questions;
  • his goal is described as a bundle of troubles to be avoided and excuses;
  • effort is a horrifying option.

As we continue our conversation, a picture forms in my head. It looks like a big hole surrounded by lots of punk-colored danger zones that blink and change shape at any change of mood and air pressure. At first I feel too old to be of any help. My interior clock runs too slow to keep the pace.Then I switch off my ears and mind to turn on a different receptor deep within. The sight gets clearer now.I see the screen of a video game I used to play with in the seventies (Pong/ Atari). My role as an adult professional is to keep the ball (my 20 something lunch companion) in the field and protect him from being hurled out of the game.

My role as an adult professional is to keep the ball (my 20 something lunch companion) in the field and protect him from being hurled out of the game.

Sharing my learnings

  1. expect facts, reject opinions
  2. listen carefully, enjoy new insights and challenge them gently
  3. be gentle, they are fighting a hard battle
  4. be firm, they need you to be steady
  5. agree on a set of common goals, allow free interpretation on how to get there
  6. share daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly tasks
  7. put 5 and 6 in writing, you may be tempted to overrule agreements based on seniority. this doesn’t work at all.
  8. eliminate “never”, “always”, “often” from your vocabulary
  9. reduce opinions, if still necessary call them “opinions”
  10. provide facts, if necessary document them

About me: 41 years old, a business traveler for over 20 years, I have had the opportunity to contribute to major business transformations from a very young age. Coordinating the introduction of ISO9001 in 1994, managing business process re-engineering SAP projects in 1998, launching mobile and online printing services in 2004, creating innovative and high-value energy saving optimization services from 2010 until 2013, and finally taking a break from the corporate career to embrace the 3.0 digital age in partnership with my youngest sister in 2013. From 2004 until 2013, I have held general management roles. Since 2014, I act as a private advisor to private companies and senior managers.