Why I Listen to Younger Professionals

The younger professionals (YPs) in our midst bring energy, skills and fresh perspectives to the workplace. We must be willing to listen to them, learn from them, and position them for success.

I consider this part of “reverse mentoring.” While I’m always eager to be the mentor to younger team members, I think it’s essential to let them teach me. I want to know how they see the world, especially when their experiences are vastly different from my own.

Jen Lemanski worked with me at PKF Texas for nearly 12 years, and she’s still there. In her role as Practice Growth Senior Manager, she helped me stay tuned in to issues, challenges and trends from a YP viewpoint.

Jen is a “cusper” – part of a generation born in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She grew up on the cusp of the digital age, and began using computer technology in kindergarten. She became my mentor as I learned how to use social media as a business and networking tool.

“Letting younger ‘digital natives’ show what they know about social media is one good way to engage them,” Jen says. “It’s a technology that’s truly driven by young people, and more senior professionals may not have time to do a deep dive into it. For example, I’ve taught Karen the ins and outs of Instagram.”

A younger person sees the world and its possibilities with fresh eyes, and I always appreciate that. “Karen would often seek me out and ask for my experience,” Jen explains. “Other times I’d see something interesting, and discuss it with her. It’s important for a young professional to be confident, but not arrogant about what they know, and be willing to share.”

Jen’s youthful perspective combined with my experience of serving in organizations. One example of how we collaborated was our proposal to the Greater Houston Partnership (the city’s major economic development organization).

We approached GHP with the idea of forming a young professionals group. Jen then became a founding member of the leadership team of that group, Houston Young Professionals & Entrepreneurs (HYPE). We strategized to get her to that role, and she ran with it. It was the perfect situation. We helped pull all the players together at the right time and place. We began discussing what the future of the group would look like.

The result was more engagement by young professionals in the GHP. And, it set up a volunteer leadership path for Jen and her cusper, GenX and Millennial counterparts that hadn’t existed before.

Life lesson unpacked: It really is all about lifelong learning. Younger people have so much to teach us if we show them we value their ideas and help them find ways to demonstrate their abilities.

For a background on this blog, please see the Preface.