Empowering “Entry Level CEOs” to Speak Up and Stand Out!

final-hilary-blog-postThis weekend, I spoke to several hundred college students at the PRSSA International Conference in Atlanta. It was a thrilling experience, and those who know me well won’t be surprised to hear that I encouraged them to fearlessly lean in to their innate leadership qualities—to boldly speak up and stand out.

In an era of disruption and continuous change, I’m surprised at the number of industry pundits who continue to opine about how difficult it is to manage a millennial workforce or how things are different today. It is not difficult. It is markedly different from our experience as entry level employees.

I like to think of it as “Managing the Entry Level CEO.” Why? Because this group has honed their leadership skills for years just to get that first job with us. They’ve had to excel in high school with top GPA’s, take college level courses while still in high school, demonstrate hours of community service, athletic achievement and deliver extraordinary test scores just to get into college. After that, they get to compete again for college level internships and a coveted post-college first job. It’s more competitive out there than ever, and we are lucky to be able to choose the best – natural leaders, curious learners and fearless competitors who have already demonstrated years of drive to reach us. Naturally, they don’t know how to sit quietly in their cubicles generating media monitoring reports when they join. My question for our industry leadership is why would we want that type of behavior at all?

Our CEO talks about his vision for Ketchum to bring forward campaign leading ideas. Those big ideas can and do come to our clients from every direction – ad, digital or PR agency. Inside our world, we need to push the reset button as well and listen to voices bringing us insights at all levels. A big idea truly can come from any level. If we honestly want fresh thinking and fast action, we need to encourage our team members to speak up, take risks and stand out (click to tweet).

My advice to the college students this weekend in my presentation “Speak Up and Stand Out” was fairly simple:

  • raise your hand
  • be your own best brand manager
  • merchandise your successes
  • don’t be afraid to experiment
  • once you’re in, collaborate rather than compete with your co-workers
  • never burn a bridge
  • find mentors, and pay it forward by being one too
  • develop a global mindset
  • think like a business leader…
  • and most importantly, be brave enough to be you: find your true north and stick to it.

We owe our entry level CEO’s the opportunity to be heard, to shine and to bring forward their natural leadership.   If we, as senior leaders, could develop the courage to abandon labels, to stop talking about difficult millennial workers and to start asking for their ideas, opinions and insights, imagine the shift and pace of change we could experience at Ketchum.

To our new employees and to the college students this weekend, I recommend you Speak Up and Stand Out. Be brave, be bold and be good too. To the rest of us, let’s agree to listen more   Leadership, constructive criticism and big ideas exist at all levels.   Let’s embrace our next generation leaders.