What 4:44 means for black millennial leaders

What Jay-Z’s 4:44 Means For Black Millennial Leaders

In 1997, Jay-Z, a Brooklyn MC emerging in popularity and ambition, released his second studio album, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. Still perfecting his sound and his persona, Jay was at his hungriest then yet seemingly stuck between the rap game and the dope game, and the streets and the boardroom. Also in 1997, the African American community emerged as the fastest growing consumer base worldwide with a total purchasing power of $469.4 billion. As our influence climbed so did our access to education and entrepreneurship setting the stage for the youngest in our community – the millennials – to witness this growth and progression firsthand.

20 years later, Jay-Z is known as the legendary rapper holding the number one slot on just about everyone’s top five list. From beats to business – then Beyonce and Blue Ivy – he’s been able transcend all aspects of entertainment, leverage philanthropy for the cause and master entrepreneurship with the best of black excellence. His latest album 4:44 is proof, and most black millennials will agree. With themes like financial freedom, generational wealth, ownership and entrepreneurship all woven into dope, soulful beats, and not to mention, the slick short movies as videos for songs like Moonlight and Story of O.J., and an inside scoop from the Rap Radar podcast on TIDAL, 4:44 is a blueprint for black millennials who are poised to lead.

Yet, we still have a reality to face. In the Black community, money circulates zero to one time and one dollar circulates between us for only six hours, according to Nielsen, making us the least wealthy U.S demographic. However, Nielsen also tells us that the overall Black spending power is projected to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020. And with millennials representing 50 percent of the global workplace by 2020 making us huge influencers on how business works, the projected $162 billion that Black Millennials have in buying power along with undisputed cultural influence, means we as leaders must get serious about avoiding “living rich and dying broke” as Jay-Z said.


With new wind of inspiration from Jay and a major cultural shift at hand, here are four things 4:44 should inspire black millennial leaders to do:

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We must own.

“You walkin’ around like you invincible/You dropped outta school, you lost your principles” – ‘Kill Jay Z’

Millennials are only interested in purposeful work. School may teach you how to get jobs but there’s no guarantee school will teach you how to create jobs. Ownership is a priority because for black millennials the future of business depends on our ability to be employers. With all our smarts gained from school or otherwise, we must maintain the vision to be owners – own everything we can from property to businesses. Whether you run a startup in your basement or you jet set to make big deals, ownership is your key to financial freedom and generational wealth. For black millennial leaders to build legacy, we must apply compelling vision to own our own – whether it’s a website selling apparel or a food truck selling cupcakes. Without ownership, we jeopardize our progress. It’s about principle above all.

We must invest.

‘Please don’t die over the neighborhood/That your mama rentin’/Take your drug money and buy the neighborhood/That’s how you rinse it’ – ‘Story of O.J.’

Millennials are magnets for creativity and community. Whether you buy the block in your old neighborhood or cut a check to a local nonprofit, directing your resources to your own community curates and preserves its cultural originality. When you invest in the black community, you generate profits in pursuit of social goals. Use your profit to invest in your purpose in leadership. Remember, your profit is not just your money. You can invest your profits in form of time, advice and raw talents. Not only does investing foster loyalty to your community, it introduces a culture of openness so that solutions can be explored to help solve the problems we want solved and ensure a legacy for future generations for follow.

We must innovate.

“Y’all think small, I think Biggie” – ‘Family Feud’

Millennials are vocal about what we want for our lives. We think big. We create lifestyles that support innovation which means we keep an open mind about the way the world works. As black millennials, we have a legitimate role to play in the innovation of leadership. We must lead with incremental steps that make old ideas new again and repurpose the familiar into the unexpected. The cultural shift of innovation forces us to the frontline of leadership. When black millennials embrace innovation and build a culture to support it, we demonstrate intentionality in our leadership. When we deliberately and routinely think big, we show that innovation is a way of life. And when boundaries appear, we use innovation to push them by facing the fast-paced world head-on with no fear.

We must build.

“We’re supposed to vacay ’til our backs burn / We’re supposed to laugh ’til our hearts stops” – ‘4:44’

Millennials love life. We do not want to put our passions on hold – travel, food, love, technology, etc. Meanwhile, we are still building. Its part of the black millennial experience. We are building ideas that successfully raise awareness of issues facing the Black community and influence decisions shaping our world. We must use our collective power to build the future together —we must focus on outcomes, not hours, and results, not hype. We must have a challenge to continuously learn and do better. Though our ambition and zest for life may get us labeled as self-centered, what we really want is to get better at what we are doing, take care of our families and have an impact on the world. As we build, we must empower each other to eliminate the “me” mentality. When we do so, and do it together, we earn the power and privilege to lead lives of unlimited potential.


In 4:44, Jay-Z masterfully proves the bond between cultural change and social entrepreneurship. Cultural change exposes problems by disrupting a system. This is a result of generations asking why. Social entrepreneurship solves problems by disrupting a system. This is a result of generations asking, why not? And, asking why not is what millennials do best.

Though Jay is a Gen-Xer and one of the most respected voices in pop culture, the so-called legends and power brokers from his generation aren’t the only ones responsible for creating the most exciting things impacting our culture these days. Increasingly, millennials are having the biggest impact on culture thanks to his influence along with others from Gen X.

If black millennials leaders intend to lead, and we are showing that we do, all the inspiration we need is in front of us.

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The Opportunity for Millennial Leaders

By 2020, millennials will represent 50% of the global workplace, making us a huge influence on how business works.

Organizational leaders are becoming increasingly concerned that they soon will be unable to find the talent they need to succeed, with a shortage of suitably skilled workers as the single biggest worry. Businesses are competing fiercely for the best available talent to replace the retiring boomers in the upcoming years. Every year, more and more of that talent will be recruited from the ranks of millennials (PwC, 2011).

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That means building leaders from the millennial generation can no longer be a delayed strategy for decision-makers in the workplace.

Reason 1: Millennials are critical to organizational success and sustainability

Reason 2: Millennials can quickly learn the ropes then come for the boss’s job

Reason 3: Millennials have options. We can decide we don’t want to work for someone

Reason 4: Without millennials, organizations will start to wane.

A report by PriceWaterhouse Coopers provides some insight into the minds of millennials. In 2011, the corporation carried out an online survey of 4,364 millennials across 75 countries under the age of 31 or under and had graduated college between 2008 and 2011. Seventy-five percent were currently employed or about to start a new job while 8% were unemployed at the time they responded to the questionnaire. The rest were self-employed or returning full-time to continue their education. According to the survey, 76% of respondents with a job said it was a graduate role, while 12% had a job that did not require a degree. The survey said that 54% expected to work for between two and five employers over their entire career.

This isn’t attributed to low attention spans and bouts of boredom millennials are believed to possess. This is a direct result of organizations determining that millennials aren’t high-level contributors because we’re not “one-size fits all.” We spend an average 1.5 years to 3 years working at a company. But working for two and five employers over a 40 to 50-year career suggests much greater longevity with an employer than that the perceived length of millennials’ employment, the survey said.

Millennials are vocal about what we want for our lives. Our careers are top priority. In fact, our generation sees a bigger picture for our work, leveraged by technology, freedom and creativity. This means we have the ability to add meaningful value to our work from anywhere at anytime, and we must be allowed to exercise that value in ways that others respect it.

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Here are immediate opportunities we can take as leaders:

  • Ask your employer for the resources to pursue education in your chosen field and opportunities to keep learning through training, workshops or tuition reimbursement. Also, be prepared to invest in your own training outside of the office to make your skills as marketable and transferable as possible. Ask for time with your manager for an explanation for how your specific contributions add to the company’s bottom line and how the team benefits from the efficiencies you can create.

 

  • Ask management for leadership and personality assessments to better understand your traits as an intrapreneurial leader. Seek a professional coach and internal mentors who can advise you along the way. We are comfortable with transparency and want management to practice it as they are grooming us. We get the basic ingredients for success, but can gain valuable guidance as the benefit of some unconventional advice. Be prepared to make improvements along the way based on the feedback you receive. And, don’t be offended, even if you don’t agree with what comes out of the evaluation. Use it to your advantage. When we ask management to help us, we should reciprocate a tone of clarity and openness, with a respect for inclusion and diversity.

 

  • Ask if you can mentor fellow millennials in the workplace who may need to be coached on the company’s culture. Offer to be a reverse mentor to baby boomers or Gen X-ers as an effort to build relationships with senior colleagues that could raise the bar on employee engagement and productivity. If you seek leadership in the workplace, ask for an honest assessment of your communication weaknesses and make sure you are working to inspire confidence, showing interest in the professional development of your coworkers and communicating with clarity and transparency.

When we define and prove our value as leaders, we create leverage to ask for more of what we want and the work we want to do.

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.*

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.