Diversity is capable of making positive change to an organization whether it's age, race, ethnicity, education, or background. Diversity of age especially is something companies have to deal with more and more as baby boomers retire and as millennials continue to enter the workforce.
Early in my career I had the opportunity to experience diversity of age as a leader in two different positions.
I was starting my third year of teaching high school mathematics, 24 years old, no fear and full of energy. I ran and was elected as the president of the Lockland teachers association. It was a contract year so the task of negotiating a new deal was front and center. It was a completely new experience for me but a challenge.
Almost all the teachers I represented were older and many had decades of teaching experience. The administration had a similar older demographic. I spent time with many of the teachers, asking about past negotiations, what the issues were and how should we approach contract talks.
The most important thing I did throughout was constant communications, I kept the folks informed and engaged. We reached an agreement and it was ratified.
Once I left the teaching world, I started my first job at GE Aviation at the age of 27 supervising more than 30 men who were as old as my dad. I must say, it was awkward giving orders to my dad.
I grew a lot in that position and learned to treat people right, acknowledge their skills, communicate frequently and seek involvement from team members. I can't say it was easy, they called me a lot of different names in the beginning but "College Boy" was one of my favorites (I never let it bother me).
It took time to earn their trust and respect, but without this first opportunity GE gave me to be a leader, I would have never built these skills effectively.
In situations such as these, we can learn the power diversity has to bring success and positive change to an organization.
Millennials bring a disposition of fearlessness, they don't have years of bias built up, and they don't worry about making a mistake. They have the ability to bring new ideas and new life to an organization.
Companies today need to trust millennials with meaningful leadership opportunities. The only way to get millennials experience is to promote them and give them responsibility. Millennials are capable, eager, intelligent and have a ton of energy.
If millennials in your company have leadership qualities and prove themselves, they must be promoted to key positions in your organization. Don't tell me age can't be overcome; I gained tremendous experience from my story and experience as a 20 something given a chance to lead people.
Surround your company with diversity and discover the numerous ways one complex problem can be approached.
Give millennials and others a chance for the next opportunity, (let them fill the shoes of the generations before them) take the diversity of age and turn it into your company's advantage!
Bob McEwan, who retired as the general manager of GE Aviation's global supply chain, continues to consult with GE Aviation, its partners and other aerospace companies in engineering and supply chain management. He also conducts leadership seminars for executives and corporate staffs. For additional information, visit discoveryourinnerleader.com.