I'm not your typical start-up employee. I'm 37 with two young kids, and I still have an iPhone 5. My idea of a wild night is staying up till 11pm to watch The Voice.
My boss, the CEO and co-founder of our start-up, is 26. Constantly on the go, Jayne Ronayne can talk, type, text, walk and drink coffee at the same time. She is at some networking event or another most nights of the week, and wears Chuck Taylor high-tops to the office. She is, undeniably, a millennial.
It's been said that millennials are narcissists. My first six months on the job, I was trying to keep Jayne's pace and win the elusive "mom of the year award," and it was taking its toll. At a particularly weak moment, I asked Jayne if I could work part-time. While I'm pretty sure she thinks "part-time" means working full-time with the kids at home, she is empathetic and flexible. That said, she expects her team to put the company's needs at a very close second to our families'. This is less about narcissism as it is a fervent commitment to our success.
It's been said that millennials are entitled. Jayne will contact anyone, anywhere, of any rank, and expect to get a response. But this is less out of a sense of entitlement as it is straight up tenacity. As a female founder, she knows she might have to work twice as hard to prove herself. She expects to do well in life, but only by earning it. It is this doggedness that has led her to be named one of Ireland's Top 30 under 30 and our company to be chosen as one of the world's top 25 startups in the Extreme Tech Challenge. Before meeting Jayne, I was content with contentedness. The millennial drive is contagious, and I'll never again settle for mediocrity.
It's been said that millennials are impulsive. This is a refreshing change from my previous life in academia, where a decision to change the status quo could easily take six months. Jayne moves quickly, but thoughtfully. While we try to make most decisions in front of a white board, we often resort to email or Slack or Skype. If you're not "on call" and constantly connected, you might miss the opportunity to weigh in. We are all constantly connected, and we're okay with that.
It's been said that millennials are disloyal. Jayne makes decisions that are best for the company, not necessarily herself. Sometimes this means making changes, hiring or otherwise, that are hard to swallow. While I'm used to stability and predictability, Jayne is constantly evaluating whether team members and processes are the right fit at the right time and, if not, is comfortable letting go. She considers it in no one's best interest to draw out an inevitable mismatch.
It's been said that millennials are cheap. Sure, I was frustrated when it took me almost a year to get my own laptop and I have to pay my own health insurance, but last time I checked, a slow burn rate was a good thing. Let's call it frugal.
Next year, more than 3.6 million baby boomers are set to retire and more than one-fourth of millennial workers will become managers. The characteristics commonly used to depict this up-and-coming generation might be less misconceptions than misinterpretations. If positioned correctly, these traits can translate into incredibly adept, impassioned and courageous leaders from whom we all — millennials or not — have a lot to learn.
Liza Bennigson is the director of business development at KonnectAgain, an emerging alumni engagement software for corporations and universities. She enjoys writing, running, travel, and dance parties with her kids. Check our her Twitter and LinkedIn pages for more info!