These days, it seems like every college grad expects his degree to be a ticket to the top of an organization. While Millennials feel they have a lot to contribute — and their enthusiasm is admirable — their lofty ideas are actually impairing them in the long run.
Recently, I was taking a train back from New York City with three Yale students. While discussing upcoming job possibilities, two of the students said they had interviews with McKinsey in Dubai. They felt this opportunity would place them in a more prominent position than being a typical analyst here in the U.S.
The third student was thinking of joining them, though he’d just completed an internship at the Clinton Global Initiative, which more closely aligned with his interests. When I asked why he wasn’t going to stick with it, he said he didn’t want to start off “behind the scenes.”
This conversation illustrates a growing trend among Millennials. In an age when helicopter parents created an “everyone’s a winner” mentality, more college grads aren’t working to build their résumés or skills sets — they’re shooting straight for the top.
But what they don’t realize is that starting at the bottom will make them stronger leaders in the long run. Instead of seeking big titles and chasing dollar signs, they need to do the following:
- Seek a Mentor
Luck and good timing may get you somewhere, but gleaning advice and connections from a mentor is invaluable. You must be willing to invest time and energy in learning from the people around you. Without a mentor, young leaders won’t be as receptive to advice.
When handed a prominent position, it’s hard to admit that you don’t know everything. And as the pace of innovation and change exponentially increases, being open to learning and being willing to embrace it is a must. In fact, eBay CEO John Donahoe and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky have a “mutual mentorship” so they can grow by continuing to learn from each other’s experiences and failures.
- Practice Patience and Discipline
It takes patience and discipline to drive a business to success. Those who feel entitled to leadership positions right out of college might not appreciate their roles or fully understand the responsibility they demand. Leaders inspire people; they don’t force them to follow. By working from the ground floor up, you learn — and experience firsthand — how hard work, planning and patience translate to success over time.
- Gain More Expertise
It takes at least 10 years or 10,000 hours of experience to become an expert in anything. By putting yourself in a position to be trained, you can learn from the failures and successes of others. These valuable lessons will give you experience to draw on as you deal with situations in the future.
Starting from the bottom has nothing to do with paying dues or following the rules of seniority. It puts leadership responsibilities in perspective and gives future leaders and CEOs the chance to hone their skills and become experts in their respective fields.
Although a young CEO title might sound glamorous, it isn’t the best career move for newly minted grads. Take the time to sharpen your expertise — when you do venture out on your own, you’ll be a much more competent and successful leader.
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