When It’s Over, Is It Over?
The ultimate test of a man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard. — Gaylord Nelson-
The life of a hero, idol, or even a dreamer are often legendary. The further from the bottom they climb, the better the story there is to tell. There are successful people who are chameleons who continue to mold their career, or have different stages in their life where it seems like there isn’t an end. But the average person is planning for their retirement. Some times that retirement doesn’t happen as early as they want to, or they cannot financially leave the workplace. Whether it is financial or they are not able to let go, when is it time to walk away? This subject is kind of a continuation of last weeks Monday Fit. Every millennial or generation X’er works or has worked for a boss (or knows someone) who works where the person in charge has no plans to retire, and that should be the number one thing that they should be thinking about. Unfortunately, it has plagued our two generations with the reputation of being too aggressive and trying to push baby boomers out faster than we should or before it’s time. Now as a disclaimer, I am not SAYING every person who is older needs to retire, there are people who retire too early, or there are people capable until they are 90, because they have the capacity…. but that ain’t everybody .
But how do you know when it’s time to go? Better yet, as Millennials, how do we learn from inadequate leadership or managers? It may seem like we are a generation wanting to get paid more sooner, and be in charge sooner, but I promise a decent salary and a good manager, most millennials would be happy, just as much as any other generation. More times than not, it’s about feeling appreciated and recognized for your contribution, and there is nothing wrong with that. Part of the problem is the work culture baby boomers grew up in was harsher on their employees, and provided for less freedom, autonomy, so that when they get to a certain level in the career, that is the first time they may be really leading or feeling appreciated, why would they want to let go?
Being in Austin, I talk to a lot of millennials in start-ups or tech companies, and the reason they are less likely to feel frustrated is because they are given autonomy, freedom, and the ability to make decisions in the business structure, but understand that they are not in charge, but feel appreciated. That is the kind of environment that we should be striving for. But is the answer that simple? Probably not.
So let’s take a look at an industry where when it’s time to go, you don’t really have many options, and yet, time and time again, the aging workforce STILL takes forever to walk away, and it ain’t about the money. I think of my favorite football player, Peyton Manning, who could ( some would say should) retire today. He is going to the Hall of Fame one day, he already has a great legacy, AND he has a championship. But of course, he wants more, just like my least favorite player, Tom Brady, who know has 4 championships. But with Peyton Manning, I would hate to admit, his performance is declining and it was noticeable in the playoffs. Now Peyton’s decline is still better than half of the quarterbacks out there, but just like other quarterbacks who could hang it up, he plans to play next year.
Now his profession is the kind when your performance is declining you have to close up shop. Not because you are no longer going to be paid, but he’s own health and safety would be better served if he wasn’t out on the field with men half of his age. I wonder, how many tough games ahead I will have to watch and how painful will it be for me. But the question remains, why is it so hard to let go, when we aren’t the best at something anymore? How do we pass the torch in our industries, when the older population can contribute, but maybe not at the same level, and the younger generation is hungry?
If you look at most professional development advice for millennials, in most people’s top five things to do, is get a mentor. That’s right, if you’re under the age of 40 and you want to develop your skills and continue to improve, mentorship is key. Most people I admire professionally all had mentors who lead them and taught them along the way. That one person showed them the ropes, told them where the traps are, and how to avoid them. For some, they never had a mentor, they learned from trial and error, and you know these people, because they emphasize, that they made a lot of mistakes, but that they made it through; either path works.
But my charge is if you’re in a leadership or managerial role with millennials or generation X’ers under you that are eager to learn and you’re not mentoring, that is one sign it is time for you to go. If you’re more worried about the younger generation taking your spot, and making life hard for them in the bad way (not being hard on them to make them stronger way) then it’s time for you to go. Why do I say this? Because it is just as important to excel in a position and it is to bring in the best generation who can be vital assets.
Look at the benefits of reverse mentoring popularized by former GE Chairman Jack Welch. Now the idea is still a little crazy to me, because I have never seen it in practice, but I wish there was more of it in my industry. Reverse mentoring is described as “a situation where the old fogies in an organization realize that by the time you’re in your forties and fifties, you’re not in touch with the future the same way the young twenty-something’s. They come with fresh eyes, open minds, and instant links to the technology of our future”. (source) This method is so key to the workplace, especially for millennials but also for baby boomers. And as baby boomers are retiring later and later, it will be important to accept this change.
According to a Gallup poll, the average age Americans reported retiring has increased over the last 14 years since the poll started to be collected. Although the difference is small, in 1991, Americans, on average, reported retiring at 57. In 2014, the average age at which Americans report retiring has increased to 62. (source) The polls cities that “retirement age may be increasing because many baby boomers are reluctant to retire. Older Americans may also be delaying retirement because of lost savings during the Great Recession or because of insufficient savings even before the economic downturn”. (source)
The reality is that the financial state of the country may require baby boomers to continue to retire later and later, so we have to be deliberate and intentional about the work environment in which we develop. It is important how we nurture and grow new and raw talent. Although our generation may seem whiny, demanding, and impatient, but as I’ve mentioned before, “Attitude reflects leadership”. We are a product of our environment, let’s make it an even better one.
Let us be sure that those who come after will say of us in our time, that in our time we did everything that could be done — Ronald Reagan
Originally published at missingperspective.com on March 2, 2015.