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Your Business Needs Gen Z and Millennial Perspectives to Get Ahead Why executives need to realize that asking for input from a more youthful group of staff members will only make them stronger.

By Jan Risi Edited by Matt Scanlon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Most of today's leaders went through traditional training, learning from books with established business standards indicating that age and experience yield greater skill and industry wisdom. I entered into a leadership position at a pretty young age, which made it easy for me to seek out the advice of older, wiser mentors who had been around the block many times. They had faced dissenting board members and handled economic dives, so I had a lot of secure places to turn for information and advice.

In the past 25 years, however, the world has changed, and quickly. With current technology, we now find ourselves learning in a new way to stay relevant — directly from the mouths of those in the throes of it. Just like the rest of today's leaders, my schooling included no lessons on the changes we would see on the internet, gig economies or the unexpected health crises thrust upon us. To deal with these constant changes, business leaders must now open ourselves up to absorb new and crucial lessons, leaving us vulnerable enough to recognize and accept the wisdom of a younger generation to bridge that gap.

Innovation comes from something new

For business leaders today, being vulnerable can open the door to innovation. As you become more senior, both in age and in a company, you become more secure in the way you do things — your methods have clearly been successful despite a changing world. For mentorship, I can call on a peer with the same level of experience as I have because I know their track record. Turning to members of the younger generation instead, who do not share your long years of experience, requires giving up that security. Taking that risk, however, can often be the only way someone comfortable in their ways veers from their norm and tries something new.

Young people come into their fields with big new ideas, especially in the tech space, but no real way to ask senior leaders their opinion. Even if not every idea blows you away, keeping an open mind and really listening to the younger generation can give you new ways to approach problems or improve efficiency, especially with the newest technology. Listen to everyone, and by the time you hear a few opinions repeated, recognize those as ideas you can start to trust. This puts you in a different position the next time because really listening to them becomes so much easier. Of course, the first time takes some serious vulnerability.

Related: 5 Simple Tips for Incorporating Gen Z Into Your Workplace

Staying current is a marathon and a sprint

Being vulnerable gives you the confidence to accept when someone else knows more than you, a critical skill in today's fast-paced environment. Everything is growing exponentially these days, and you have to be constantly training yourself to keep up with each paradigm shift. When you reach the top of your career, it can be hard to admit that you can still benefit from training. It takes a certain level of vulnerability to allow yourself new input from younger minds in advancing fields where you have to acknowledge that they have more answers than you.

Early in my career, we were putting in a customer payment platform to accept credit cards and gather data to better understand spending habits. Young people were in the office every day with a new idea to run something better or use information more effectively. A couple of them started telling me about their side projects as developers, working to further the value of that information in new ways beyond sales — mapping behavior and "geo-fencing" to track consumer interactions with competitors. It all sounded like Big Brother to me. Getting over that hurdle required actively listening to these young visionaries as they explained an industry that I was still struggling to understand; admitting that I needed their input and genuinely accepting it took vulnerability.

Related: Smart Brands Won't Generalize When It Comes to Gen Z

Learn in new ways and improve company culture

Respecting the younger generation in our organization caused them to respect me back, which became a valuable part of shaping our positive company culture. Instead of sacrificing authority, opening myself up to letting younger voices explain the tech space to me enhanced my own skills, and as a result, I learned to trust and consider their input. When you listen and consider someone's opinions, they feel their own contribution to the company with a much greater impact and become more invested in driving its success.

My experiences learning from the younger generation taught me to see the value of new technology platforms for our organization and its shareholders, without ever receiving any traditional training. Once you get over that old-school hump, being vulnerable enough to trust the insight coming from these younger minds gives you the information you need to keep up with the changing times without having to return to a classroom. Instead of always being the one to teach, let yourself learn from the younger members on your team and build an expanding circle of trust. This two-way flow of information cuts down on your burden to stay on top of everything.

Related: 7 Things to Know Before You Manage a Gen Z Team

Being vulnerable enough to seek advice from the younger generation not only empowers you, but also shows your openness and authenticity. You will feel the confidence to start going back to them for more advice, and they will feel valuable, encouraged to strive and confident about presenting their potential contributions. Vulnerability keeps our minds open to learning from the people we teach, and the best teachers are learning all the time. Even when times of crisis hit, business leaders should stay open to being vulnerable enough to hear ideas from anyone who has them — from the oldest person in the room to the youngest — because competing in today's world demands input from everyone.

Jan Risi

President and CEO of Independent Purchasing Cooperative

Jan Risi is a seasoned executive with experience leading a $5 billion organization with a focus on supply-chain management. Risi’s experience as an operational leader has included cost-saving measures, building food manufacturing facilities and leading technology platforms.

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