What Makes A Millennial “Original”

Many headlines seem to focus on the idea that millennials are not poised to lead. We are incompetent, shiftless and noncommittal. We show up late. We act entitled. We demand more than we earn.

It’s been six months since I released my book, The Original Millennial: Lessons in Leadership for the Millennial Generation. The reception has been fantastic, though not without questions.

“So is the book only for millennials?”

“So are you saying only millennials can be ‘original’?”

“What about Gen X? And the Baby Boomers? You left us out?”

No, no and no.

While millennials have a series of subgroups divided by the factors of age and socioeconomic background, originality is not a concept that refers to demographics as descriptors for millennials. It’s true that the entrepreneurial members of the older-millennial subset are altogether reinventing the planet and the younger subset is revitalizing organizations with an intrapraneurial excitement that is reinventing the workforce.

We understand why there is a great deal of variation from one individual millennial to another, more than within any other generational cohort, when we understand who our parents are. The differences between baby boomer and Gen X-er parents are the most critical reason millennials are so diversely defined yet grossly misunderstood.

A 33-year old millennial remembers using dial-up internet access to log on to the first version of Facebook, while a 23-year old millennial has likely never used Facebook without a high speed mobile or Wi-Fi connection. Those are major moments in the social development of millennials that are not to be ignored. However, the term “original” in this book will not be used to separate millennials by younger and older subsets.The Original Millennial at coffee shop - author Aerial Ellis

The millennial generation continues to have a major influence on almost every aspect of our lives, including how we communicate and use technology. Millennials have affected changes in parenting practices, educational and career choices and sparked shifts in homeownership and family life. These developments have inspired much speculation about how this generation will fare later in life, and whether these trends are temporary or permanent (TCEA, 2014).

The driving force behind the potential greatness within the millennial generation is originality. We got here with so much originality that we were ready to take on a world that wasn’t making room for us.

We get distracted because we switch devices 27 times an hour. It may look like we don’t know where we’re going with our eyes glued to the screen and our fingers scrolling down the side. But we keep original ideas flowinThe Original Millennial switching devices - Author Aerial Ellisg from the sources found in the platforms we surf.

We thrive on original experiences and relationships. We are cautious and loyal. We often think the media are biased and can quickly perceive fakeness in human interaction.

We must have original conversations that happen in a meaningful, sincere way. We back brands. It gives us a sense of ownership and makes us feel like we contribute to the growth and prominence of those businesses.The Original Millennial tech coding

We may look up to Mark Zuckerberg, Jay-Z and Steve Jobs for their originality, but our favorite mentors and models for inspiration are our fellow millennials.

Why is this? Because originality can sometimes be at odds with the source. The best parts of original millennials are found in the choice to change and evolve. The original qualities of past generations use commonly understood behavior patterns, which make them far easier to define, whereas original millennials have the ability to defy category.

For the millennial generation, originality is the most important trait because it positions how we think, feel, work and lead. The power of originality becomes most valuable when used in the pursuit of solutions. Millennials always look for ways to make things greater, bigger, better, stronger and more practical.

Across society, there’s enough division between cultural groups including generations – so much so that our thoughts take us instantly to a detection of bias, which is great in order for us acknowledge if and how bias exists.

Calling a millennial “original” not about pointing out our intergenerational differences. It’s about uplifting a generation by harnessing the original qualities we possess. The distinction of original is applied to the approach millennials bring to life; how we marry vision and values; how we merge creativity with cause and how we make real challenges look remarkably cool. Originality is the prime possession that makes the difference.

That’s all.

Read the book for yourself and you be the judge. What makes a millennial “original?”

*This post includes an excerpt from The Original Millennial: Lessons in Leadership for the Millennial Generation.*

A look at Nashville’s 40 Under 40

Cranes in the sky. That’s all we saw when posing for this photo from high up on the rooftop of The Westin Hotel. Reflecting on the growth and expansion of the city, we gathered as a handful of this year’s Nashville Business Journal 40 Under 40 winners selected to appear on the cover of the paper. It was an honor to be one of the young leaders in the city chosen from nearly 600 nominations – a record number.

Take a look at this year’s winners.

Coaching Leaders of the Millennial Generation

At the top of the year, I started coaching millennials in the area of leadership development to kick off National Mentoring Month and…wow, what an experience!Aerial Ellis Millennial Coaching

I knew our generation was made of amazingly passionate innovators but the work I have been able to do with my millennials has been an absolute joy.

Because millennials will make up 75% of the workforce in America by 2025, a cultural shift is happening and I am working to encourage, prepare and coach our millennials for leadership. It is important that organizations are prepared for the shift that is quickly approaching, and I am here to help. With expertise in leadership communication and influence as a college professor, I am equipped with the knowledge and know-how to effectively train and ready your millennial team members. Based on curriculum from my book, The Original Millennial, I am helping millennials recognize their value and prepare them for unprecedented leadership.

If you’re a millennial, here’s a chance to get exclusive access to me as your champion! I learned the lessons, put them in a book and created a six-week curriculum to help you succeed. With my guidance and support, you become a change agent prepared to lead in business and community, and leave a legendary mark on the world. If you believe you need someone like me to groom, coach and mentor, sign up here.

If you are not a millennial…does your organization currently have professional development initiatives in place for your employees ages 20-35? Do you see a need to invest additional resources to develop your young emerging talent? I’d love an opportunity to work with your organization as a leadership development consultant to assess your generational diversity needs and counsel your millennial team members on best practices for fine-tuning the skills needed to take their professional careers, and your organization, to the next level. If you want more info, learn more here.

I’m Headed to SXSW 2017

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In a few weeks, I’ll be in Austin, Texas. I’ve been selected to speak at the 2017 SXSWedu Conference & Festival, March 6-9. I’ll offer a mentor session on diversity, millennials and PR; and on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m., I’ll be signing copies of my book, The Original Millennial, too!

The SXSWedu® Conference & Festival fosters and celebrates innovations in learning by hosting a diverse and energetic community of stakeholders across a variety of backgrounds in education. The annual four-day event affords registrants open access to engaging sessions, immersive workshops, interactive learning experiences, film screenings, early-stage startups, business opportunities and networking. Through collaboration, creativity and social action, SXSWedu empowers its global community to Connect. Discover. Impact. SXSWedu is a component of the South by Southwest® family of conferences and festivals.

If you will be at #SXSW or #SXSWedu, add my session to your event schedule.

For more information, please visit http://sxswedu.com.

How Must I Use My Influence?

2009. Social networking had taken over the world. From the moment I started a MySpace profile, I knew my generation would be the poster kids for social media. It changed the way we communicated, worked, played and lived.  It was new, exciting and innovation. It could also be overwhelming at times. The easy access, the ambiguity of messages, the jeopardy of privacy – it would make me nervous at times. I was an introvert who appeared to have extrovert tendencies.

As much as I loved to communicate with people and share ideas, I often got tired of the demand to be present and accessible on social media. I noticed, though, how social media proved something very significant for me – my influence.

Influence calls us into relationships. We look to discover relationships with those who have a substantial following in social networks, a notable brand or an authority within an industry or a community with a loyal audience. The strength of this connectivity creates relationships that earn millennials influence as a direct result of investing intellectual capital, goodwill and networking.

As with most generations, millennials have developed a tremendous amount of influence. Our influence, however, wears an originality that has created social capital almost beyond compare. This shift of influence is an example of social capital—an important element among millennial influencers. Social capital is the catalyst for influence. It becomes the key that unlocks influence and new experiences.*

This week, I’ll accept the Women of Influence Award from the Nashville Business Journal as a 2017 Trailblazer – a woman who has led the way for others to follow in her footsteps. Every year, the Nashville Business Journal recognizes a new class of Women of Influence awards winners – women who are shaping their companies, improving communities and paving the way for the next generation of influential female leaders. I’m happy and humbled begin the year with this honor and leverage my social capital for the benefit of those in my network. I’m thankful for the recognition and grateful that God continues to see fit to use me as an example.

Aerial Ellis Woman of Inclusion Nashville Business Journal Trailblazer 2017

This is an opportunity to reflect deeper and carefully consider, “how must I use my influence?” Influential leaders must consider how they will contribute to the growth of those they lead. People are drawn to a leader who actually leads, meaning they influence behavior, performance, events and outcomes. Influential leaders recognize that they are designed to be part of a mission that is larger than themselves.

As you are reading this email, you are proving your influence. You are someone who wants to help move and motivate people to make a difference. You are willing to nurture them through leadership and challenge them through motivation. A balance of two is the only way to have meaningful influence.

AE

*(This email features an excerpt from my book The Original Millennial – Part 4: Do I Want to Reflect or Direct: Influence, Access, Creativity. To order the book for yourself or a millennial you know, love or mentor, visit theoriginalmillennial.com or Amazon.com)

Millennials: Where’s Our Money?

In 2007, during the beginning of the Great Recession, I was a self-employed millennial running my own PR firm full-time. I unexpectedly lost three of my largest accounts.

I had a sense that I needed to be going after more clients, increasing my revenue and saving up more money, but I was a young entrepreneur with a lot to learn about running a company. After all, I started the business fresh out of college because the job market was so bleak and I couldn’t land a position in my field or anything stable enough to carry me financially. The business had allowed me to cover all my bills and stash away a good deal of cash, but, when the recession hit, I became afraid. When I began the business three years earlier without any money, I didn’t even have enough to open a bank account. Now, here I was again with no more money and no one to ask for help.

Why didn’t I just go get a job? Well, it’s not that simple. Millennials came into the workforce hoping to lock down a secure career and bank on a big payday only to be disappointed that neither of those things were readily available. We watched our parents work for years at the same company and believe they had a nest egg for retirement that somehow disappeared. We make less money than previous generations and have smaller incomes and bigger debts because we’re often underemployed and underpaid.

So, we’ve figured out how to use technology to do more and spend less. We love discounts, deals and freebies. We’ve put off commitments like marriage and home ownership not because they don’t hold value to us but because we want to be stable enough to fully enjoy those experiences without major financial woes. We like money and appreciate the finer things, but live for a bargain. We did not want to follow in our parents’ footsteps so we started scrambling up extra money in addition to our full time jobs as side hustles (Pew Research).

This year, we’ll approach the 10-year anniversary of the Great Recession. It took a while but I’m doing pretty well now financially. However, I am concerned about my generation. As the oldest millennials turn 37 this year – an age where most Americans are supposed to be at their peak spending age – millennials are still feeling the aftermath of the Recession (Morgan Stanley).

 

We are the largest generation of the U.S. workforce and, as we age, many factors will bear down on our financial future: Social Security is underfunded, our life expectancy is on the rise and college debt won’t disappear. Many millennials, especially those who are entrepreneurial, don’t always learn things we should about money or by the time we do we’ve already been cast out into the world burdened by money mistakes and financial mess-ups. We are a considerably underfinanced generation, which is why we have no choice but to start saving as much as possible, living on significantly less and seeking financial advice.

Where is our money? How can millennials drive growth to the U.S. economy? What will predictions say about our financial contributions? How can we develop a sustainable plan for future generations?

We have to get to saving. Twenty-three percent of younger millennials (18–24) don’t have a savings account and 43 percent of millennials who make $75–$100k a year don’t have a savings account or have nothing saved. If we don’t save today, we’ll be playing catch up later. (Millennial Money)

We have to remain frugal. Millennials should have a vision for where we might want to be financially. We must plan for our finances to keep us comfortable and learn to live below our means. Develop a budget and set money goals accordingly – translation: buy a few less lattes.

We have to ask for help. As resourceful as we are and as much as we value relationships, we shouldn’t have a problem getting money advice and financial guidance to manage the things we value most. The earlier we enlist help, the better off we’ll be.

Contrary to what is said or perceived, millennials are not lazy, entitled slackers. We have the same needs and wants as older generations — financial security, family stability and retirement savings. As we plan for the future, we must consider the kind of commitments, goals and investments we will set with our money. We know how to use our profit—what we gain out of life—to supply our purpose in the world because we inherently understand that profit is not just about money. Profit includes your time, life takeaways, raw talents and trusted tangibles. And, millennials are going to need all of those to build a sturdy foundation for the future of our money.

This article is an excerpt from my book, The Original Millennial and appeared in The Tennessean for 12th and Broad as part of the Millennial Money Experiment powered by Regions Bank.

Why Cultural Fit Could Destroy Your Diversity Efforts

Culture is important. In fact, it’s what sets one organization distinctly apart from another. Your organizational culture is one of the most critical elements for having well-harmonized teams in which all the members fit.

Cultural fit has its merits. Industry gatekeepers prize cultural fit as a hiring imperative. Organizations use cultural fit for competitive advantage by relying on the idea that the best employees are like-minded with matched personalities, skills and values. Cultural fit supports the assessment that when people are different from the majority, and do not fit in group it becomes difficult to work with them and integrate them into the team. But there are serious limitations with the value of balancing fit with diversity and inclusion.

We’ve been deliberate to communicate the importance of workplace diversity yet overlook the concrete problems that are likely to emerge if homogeneity takes priority over genuine inclusion. Cultural fit, when misused in hiring for personal comfort, likeness, preference or chemistry, becomes one of the biggest threats to diversity in the PR workforce.

When done carelessly, the concept of fit becomes a dangerous catchall used to justify hiring people who are similar to decision makers and rejecting people who are not. Hiring for fit can keep demographic and cultural diversity low, force people into a given prototype and reinforce the myth that skill and talent is exclusive to a dominant group. This creates situations in which our organizations look diverse in appearance but are deceivingly homogenous. Sameness in profile, even with very different backgrounds, can breed the kind of culture that leads to uniformity and irrelevancy in the workforce, uninformed or overconfidence decisions among teams, and exclusion of high-performing candidates.

When done thoughtfully, the concept of fit becomes a progressive attempt to highlight contribution. Hiring for contribution can make our organizations more productive and profitable by redefining cultural fit to be closely aligned with business goals. This creates organizations where people with different perspectives, attitudes, and aspirations can work positively together. Achieving diversity through contribution is sign of future innovation. It signals that organizations committed to evolving to where they need to go are ready to trust high-level contributors to take them there.

To use cultural fit more effectively, we must decide that contribution has more value. Focusing on contribution in hiring shifts an existing organizational culture by taking the energy up a notch and setting the stage for creativity to flourish.

Instead of looking for someone who fits neatly your organization’s culture, seek to discover how this person will introduce something new and unique to your current culture. Instead of asking someone to match closely with your existing culture, seek to determine whether they are likely to energize your culture and nudge it in the right direction. As a result, your organization can become a home for big ideas and better growth.

Assess what your organization is doing well and what important measurable goals you can crush. Assess what is not going well and is a battle to achieve. Determine which aspects your organization’s culture directly affects how you reach those goals. Ask what qualities and differences are likely to influence the existing culture in a meaningful and positive way. In doing so, you reframe the concept of fit by developing a cultural profile based on contribution.

While there’s nothing wrong with asking the question, “Is he a culture fit,” it shouldn’t be completely synonymous with, “Do we like him?”

The beauty of diversity is having people come together to work on a common goal. We can’t lean on cultural fit to the degree that we become afraid of the perceived conflict in putting together different people or begin to treat diversity efforts like a chore that needs to be managed. The next time someone asks, “Are they a culture fit”, carefully consider what the answer might be. This approach could destroy all that we’ve what we have been striving for in championing diversity in our industry. When we rely on contribution, we create an opportunity to shift a culture with diversity and make inclusion a real concept.

What Makes a Great Mentor?

I will admit. I have some amazing mentors. They each come from different walks of life and parts of the country, have different areas of expertise and serve a different purpose in my life. Having a diverse group of people who pour into me regularly has made a major impact in my personal and professional development.

That’s why I make mentoring a priority and work really hard to help young professionals. As part of that desire to teach and groom others, I am happy to serve as an advisor for the diversity and inclusion committee with The Plank Center in Leadership for Public Relations. This group’s purpose is to be a catalyst for other professional organizations, to help identify and bridge gaps, and assist organizations seeking to adopt best-in-class practices in the area of diversity and inclusion.

We are devoting resources to diversity and inclusion research and we are launching an online research library designed to help students, educators and professionals locate public relations research on diversity and inclusion, leadership and mentorship.

We will celebrate our efforts and honor leaders in the industry this week at an annual Milestones in Mentoring Gala. The gala recognizes the dedication and impact of individuals who have fostered relationships with their organization, community and profession.

Though I am still early in my career in comparison to the majority of my industry’s leaders, I don’t think its ever too early to mentor. My mentors have been responsive, tough-loving, open-minded, free-hearted and innovative, and I try to model them in the way I mentor.

What about you? What things do you think make a great mentor?

Aerial Ellis plank center diversity inclusion

Where Are The Leaders?

Millennial Leaders

So many headlines seem to focus on the idea that millennials are not poised to lead. We are incompetent, shiftless and non-committal. We show up late. We act entitled. We demand more than we earn.

These generalizations don’t change that fact that millions of original millennials are employed and show up to work every single day ready to achieve. These assumptions don’t diminish the thousands of problems being solved by original millennials who revolutionizing the way business is done.

While we should expect to see an influx of millennials in leadership positions over the next few years, you’re probably asking “where are they?”

In my new book, The Original Millennial, you will discover that original millennials are valuable, loyal, high-performing leaders. You will learn lessons of leadership for your own life and career. You will take away inspiration and hope that future is in good hands with an original millennial at the helm.

As we countdown to the release in just a few weeks, you may pre-order my book today for only $8.99. This gets you access to exclusive interviews with millennial leaders before the book is officially released.

Share this post with a millennial!

What’s Life Like For Students of Color at a White College Campus?

Collaborative Conversations on Race

I attended an HBCU and was engulfed by the black experience in college. Not until I began teaching at a predominantly white university did I begin to examine the experiences of students of color who spend their college years as an racial minority.

I am happy to lead a discussion on Tuesday, September 20, 6 p.m. that allows our students of color at Lipscomb University to share what life is like on a majority white campus.

Join me for this candid chat!

Did you attend a predominantly white university? What was your experience as a person of color? As a white person, what opportunities did you have to experience life on campus through the lens of a student of color?

Participate in the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #culturalcomm

#blackstudents #latinostudents #diversity #inclusion #intercultural #communication #crosscultural #race #ethnicity

The event is free and open to the public.

To learn more about the Collaborative Conversations series at Lipscomb University, visit: http://www.lipscomb.edu/leadership/news-events