A few years ago, I came across a panel on YouTube which featured a conversation between the first prime minister of a Southeast Asian nation and some university students. There is only one way to describe the way that the uni kids came across.


I was a uni kid myself at the time, but even I thought they sounded rude. And over the past few years, I have worked with my fellow peers and I hate to say it, but my generation is rude. And not only are they rude, but they are also irresponsible. They are all talk and no action.

“Why does everyone keep running away from their responsibilities?” my boss said as she threw up her hands in frustration. “It is not my job to do their job as well as mine. All they do is make my load heavier. And it’s already a very heavy load.”

Actually, my boss never said that. She’s not a rude person. But I could see it in her eyes, even though no one else could. I had never met anyone so stoic in my life and if I wasn’t a deeply sensitive person, I never would have picked up on it. I never would have picked up on all that was unsaid.

I chose to work for my current boss because I admired her. We all have reasons for choosing to work where we do; and for me, it was mainly that I wanted to work with her. Our first day in the office, I asked her how she liked her coffee.

“That’s not your job,” she said decisively. “I didn’t hire you to make my coffee.”

“How do you like your coffee?” I asked again.

“I can make my own coffee.”

“Doing this for you does not demean me in anyway. How do you take your coffee?”

My boss never answered my question. Her silence never unnerved me as it did the others. We can all say a lot without ever speaking. Later that day, I watched her make her morning coffee. Two shots of espresso, milk to the brim and half a teaspoon of sugar.

The next day, I made sure her coffee was on the table just as she was about to arrive at work. I always got there before she did. Her eyes fell on the mug and then on me. She took a sip and sat down.

“Thank you,” she said. “You are the most qualified and experienced of all the junior associates I’ve had. Why are you the one who is making my coffee?”

This time, I was the one who gave her the silence that she was so accustomed to giving me and everyone else.

I shut the door behind me and got back to work.

In an organisation, every task, no matter how big or how small, has to be done by someone.

Regardless of our income level, cultural background, gender or age, we all come face-to-face with daily opportunities that can significantly change our lives for the better or for the worse. It’s true. In the past week, you’ve probably had opportunities come into your life that could make you money or make you happy. Sometimes we receive that opportunity and sometimes we are the ones who have to give it to someone else.

Why most people make terrible employees and friends is because we fail to recognise these opportunities when they are presented to us. Because of that, we also fail to respond appropriately to the opportunity. And before we know it, that opportunity is gone.

I didn’t have to make the coffee. I already knew that. Most people in my position would not have done so. My boss was polite enough not to have ever asked. She would never have asked me or anyone else, to make her coffee or buy her lunch. But that’s what I did–for the first six months.

I don’t know how it happened and I most certainly did not plan for it to happen; but we now seem to have an unofficial roster of who buys lunch and who makes the coffee. With one person rostered to do the job for everyone for the day, the rest of us are free to focus on other tasks.

Since then, it has also been drawn to my attention that I make terrible coffee. My boss never mentioned it, but my colleague exclaimed it loudly one day.

The joke has always been on me.

Much of what defines an organisation’s culture, especially in its early days, has its roots in the founder’s worldview and experience. As the baton gets passed to the second and third generation of leaders, the culture begins to accommodate itself to the needs of the marketplace and its employees.

An organisation’s early roots take shape based on the interactions that the founder has with the people who come into contact with the organisation. A large part of this is face-to-face. As an organisation grows bigger, this personal touch tends to fall to the wayside for more objective goals with which everyone can align.

Founders do not have a guidebook or manual to follow the way that later generations do. They have been thrown into a completely new situation. This is a boon and not a bane. It’s better to know nothing than to have incorrect, incomplete or outdated information. Even more dangerous than inadequate information is theoretical knowledge that has no practical purpose.

People who have the ability to work well with others do much better in a new organisation than people who prefer working alone and do not wish to do much beyond their defined job scope. Working well with others does not end with pleasing your boss and your clients–but also includes doing quality work with your peers.

Consequently, people who are willing to step up and do the work that no one wants to do tend to be valued more. Before jumping the gun, however, it’s important to get down to business and learn all you can about the founder; as they are the ones who define the organisation and what it stands for.

If the ideas that you, as a team member, bring to the table are rejected–rethink them and rework them. They may either be in their infancy or not mature enough to be executed just yet. Or they may be excellent ideas, but not appropriate for the organisation in question. The important thing here is not to get lost in your personal vision and goals, but to suggest new ways to solve problems that benefit everyone in the team.

If and when you are thrust into a position of significantly higher responsibility than what you are accustomed to, be grateful that you have been given the opportunity. Bear in mind that the person who put you there has confidence in your abilities. Even if you make many mistakes and missteps on the job–which you will–arriving on time for meetings and meeting your deadlines will immediately put you ahead of your peers. Never fail to show up for an appointment.

If you display no consistency in your work, it will be noted. If you have no integrity in the work that you produce for the organisation, everyone will see it and some will even complain to your boss. If you are politely shown the door, do not retaliate in anger; even if you feel you have been wronged. If you have been unhappy, maintain the professional niceties and decorum for it is a big part of doing business.

When we are on lower ground–both experience-wise and aptitude-wise–why do we address our superiors as inferiors? Why do we mistakenly think we know it all when we are only at the beginning of our journey? What gave those university students in that panel the audacity to speak to the former prime minister in that way?

Despite everything he had done for the country, they focused on his flaws and his mistakes. Not only did their questions show that they had not done their homework; it also showed a laziness that is characteristic of societies which are in decline.

My generation, like all generations, believe and hope that we are the promise of tomorrow. Prior generations believe they know more than us and we believe we know more than them.

The current workforce is historically unique in its age-diversity. This can partially be attributed to higher life expectancy and delayed retirement. The generational mix comprises Baby Boomers, Generation X and Y (millennials) and the emerging Z. This poses new challenges and opportunities for humans in general who must learn to optimise their collective skills and attributes while managing our inherent differences.

While generational labelling can be considered a stereotype, the concept has merit as our worldview is shaped and influenced by the common sociopolitical, economic and environmental milieu of our times. The relationship that each generation has with technology and technological trends is particularly significant, as the speed of this evolution and its impact on daily life is possibly the most profound.

If we, as young people, think we–and by extension our fancy technological gadgets–have all the answers, I believe we are gravely misguided in such thinking. The more we answer back, talk back and rebel without a cause, the more dire our futures will be.

Perhaps that is my pessimism talking, but unlike my peers, I suppose I have never been much of an optimist.

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