Do you carry a backpack or a briefcase?

I recently sat in a strategic advisory meeting for one of the largest manufacturers in our industry. We were focused on strategizing go-to-market solutions to reposition their company for future growth opportunities. I looked around the room and most of us were over 50, and several in their 60’s. It made me realize we were probably missing an important demographic (age 25-35) in this group.

Even if you’re over 50 (I’m 54), you need to keep your company young as you age. Projecting a contemporary personal image, using the latest tools, and hanging with the next generation are good practices as a leader. Successful companies need to stay contemporary to attract and keep the best people, and ultimately customers long-term. Just look at Marissa Mayer and how she’s making Yahoo cool again. In less than a year as CEO and president, she doubled their stock value, turning around Yahoo’s performance and reviving their reputation.

Here are three ways we keep our company young, even though the average age of our executives is over 50:

1. Surround yourself with 20-somethings and really listen.
At Marco, we pay close attention to how young professionals communicate, how they research a product and the tools they use: Twitter, YouTube, Pandora. To do this, we established social media squads and focus groups consisting of a diverse group of young professionals (mid 20’s and 30’s) at Marco. These millennials are emerging as leaders in all industries and will soon be making decisions that could impact your business. For example, one of the behaviors we’ve noticed in our business is they don’t print. That’s a big deal for a company that sells printers and copiers. I encourage you to start listening – what you hear could transform your leadership and your company.

2. Carry the right tools.
I had a Palm Pilot when they first came out and was one of the earliest adopters of the iPhone. I am not a techie, but I know the tools I use help keep me productive and contemporary. So, I try to use the latest technology and encourage everyone on our leadership team to do the same. Are you texting to communicate with your young leaders? Are you using Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook to conduct business? I hope you’re not discouraging the use of these tools in your workplace (and yes, I know this may be controversial). YouTube has become the new search engine, Twitter is the new newsstand and texting is today’s conversation. Technology can be overwhelming and hard to keep up with, but like anything else, if you’re intentional about it, you’ll get pretty good at it.

3. Present a contemporary image.
Sure, low rise pants are less comfortable on an old guy (like me), but I still wear them. I pay close attention to my physical appearance and staying in good physical shape, and I think it sets a good example for our leadership team. I know if we want to attract young people to our company, we need to project a contemporary image as an individual and as an organization. For example, I ditched a briefcase long ago for a backpack. I stay connected with my smartphone, haven’t used a paper calendar in over a decade and am working towards losing the paper notebook, too.

Yes, the look, tools and the way we do business have changed. They have made me uncomfortable at times, but every generation says that. Contemporary leaders thrive and only contemporary companies survive.  Your image as a leader sets an example for your entire company. So do you carry a briefcase or a backpack? 

Topics: Mentoring, Learning, Contemporary