Millennial Musings: No Man is an Island


The Ermi Group welcomes blogger Crista Leonard!

It's Tuesday. The second week of my 3 year old's preschool. I'm running a little bit later than usual, so when I pull in to the parking lot, it's almost full. As I scan the area for a spot, I make an interesting observation. I am the only car in the lot! I am surrounded by minivans and SUVs of all sizes. Was there a compact car only section I was missing? Hmmmm...nope. It's just me and my little car swimming in a sea of SUVs and vans. suvs No man is an island. Right? I sure feel like I am on an island. My 3 year old has complained before that she didn't like our little car, only after riding in my mom's brand new SUV of course. Was I like, a two, on the cool-mom-meter? All because I drive a car? Would the other moms snub me because I wasn't rolling up with my kids in a flashy Denali or a kid-friendly minivan complete with a DVD player and doors that open by themselves?

After taking my daughter to her class and getting back in my car, it dawned on me that it didn't matter (although I would be lying if I said there wasn't a split second where I hoped no one from my daughter's class would see me get in my car). I love my car and that should be enough. It suits my family's needs just fine. It runs great, it's in good shape, has a sunroof and my husband even installed an upgraded sound system. And the best part is, I don't have to make a car payment every month. Take that, supercool moms!

Another more important realization I made is that what brings me here, and what brings the Denali drivers here, is the exact same. We are all here because we have the same wants for our kids. We all love this preschool and have chosen it opposed to one of the many others in the area. Therefore, we must have similar values and criteria for our children's education and upbringing.

Usually these types of values extend in to our personal life as well. Your neighborhood, your workplace, your softball league, your place of are a part of them just as much as the next guy. communityAs cliché as it may sound, "don't judge a book by its cover" is the perfect thing to say here. So the next time you find yourself feeling like you are on an island, whether you are at work or at your child's school, remember that beneath the Tahoes, hair dye, and Nikes, we are all pretty much the same.

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Spotlight on Talent: Karen Miller Goes on Her Dream Adventure


Karen Miller is a woman with experiences to make anyone green with envy. Her travels have taken her to China, Tibet, Prague, Ghana, Afghanistan, and further. Lessons learned from such expeditions speak to Millennials, many of whom have been bitten by the same travel bug. Karen's first experience abroad was during college when she studied in the Czech Republic. It was here in Prague where her wanderlust was kindled.karenmiller1

After graduating college, Karen knew that she wanted to go abroad again. The question then became where and for what purpose? Lacking a clear direction with her arts degree, she found a program called World Teach which allowed her to go abroad to China to teach English for a year. While in China she had the chance to travel to Tibet which was one of her favorite traveling experiences because it was so "magical." People are very spiritual and religious and devoutly Buddhist in Tibet. There are lots of pilgrims and temples. People go around the city and receive alms while praying all day; they prostrate themselves on the ground while circling Lhasa. Karen explained that her Tibetan guide really opened up about the oppression of Tibet by China, and having him as a tour guide through this mystical city and surrounding villages was unmatched by any other travel experience. Rather than being in Shanghai or a major city in China, Karen was in a remote province, Hunan, which illuminated her career path: she now knew that she wanted to pursue a career in international development.

When she returned home she knew that she needed more experience and more schooling to achieve her goal. She found an organization in Ghana and she went. Her explanation of her choice of Ghana is simple: "Ghana was totally random," she explained. "I would have gone anywhere. You have to be willing to take the plunge. That's how you find interesting things."

Of course, she went on to clarify that Africa had an appeal to her because it was such a huge continent and had so many problems. Her decision not to return to China was based largely on the fact that a good deal of China is actually very developed and even over developed, though there are areas that need a good deal of aid. "China is actually giving aid to other countries," Karen explained, "and if you're giving aid to other countries, you're at a different level of development."

In Ghana, she learned about microfinance. Microfinance entails giving small loans to small businesses or farmers or entrepreneurs. It is basically seed capital so people can start growing their business or start a business. In some places, these small loans have a 99% payback rate and have been shown to be very successful.

karenmiller2When Karen returned home, she enrolled in Master's program. After she graduated, she worked in DC for Development Alternatives Incorporated. It was through her job at the domestic home office that she received the opportunity to go to Afghanistan for what turned into a two year stint working on development. She explained that she simply jumped at the chance to go even though many people probably would have hesitated due to the dangerous nature of and the stigma attached to Afghanistan. She elucidated her decision by saying, "You kind of have to be willing to go anywhere to get the good opportunities. It's hard to land exactly what you want at first. If you're open to new experiences, things really find you."

In a world where Millennials are constantly discouraged at not receiving their dream jobs immediately after graduation, Karen's wise closing words are more pertinent than ever. Her travels and experiences are a testament to their efficacy.

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Good News About Millennials!

Earlier this month I was privileged to speak to about 200 college Juniors and Seniors at the Lynchburg College Anderson Leadership Conference.  It is a special program on a Saturday that has become a popular and well attended special event at the college.  I am a 1985 grad/alumni and The Anderson Leadership Conference is made possible by an endowment established in 1990 by Crantford V. “Andy” Anderson, Jr. and his wife, Jeri, in memory of their son, Chip, a 1985 graduate of Lynchburg College. The Crantford V. “Chip” Anderson III Endowment, administered by the Office of Student Activities, provides funding for activities that foster leadership among high school and college students.  As a leadership development junkee, I was thrilled to be asked to speak, and truly honored and touched to realize the event was in memory of my classmate.

I spoke about the generations, and tried to offer the future grads some insights into what they can expect from the multiple generations in the workplace, and also provide some business basics tips I have picked up in the research I've been doing on the subject the last year.  I was impressed that 200 college young adults attended a Saturday program; and most were well dressed killing the perception that Millennials do not know what appropriate dress is.  I was also impressed in how they can actually communicate with one another as well as adults, again extinguishing another myth that their social networking and tech savvy upbringings have somehow eliminated their ability to use verbal communications skills.  I am extremely optimistic about the future of industry if these participants are any indication of what our schools are educating and unleashing onto society.

The more I am around Millennials, the happier I become that it is their turn.  And I am grateful to hand the reigns over to this new generation, and feel it is my calling to help them be effective and successful.

My advice to skeptical Gen X and Boomers:  Encourage them, talk to them, tell them what is expected, ask them about what matters to them.  Here is a Coaching Action Plan that may help you if you are managing Millennials.

Associate Name:


Start Date:



Special Interests:


What motivates them? Learning Style (auditory, visual, experiential):

Five words they use to describe themselves:


Top three values:


Role Models:

Favorite Technology:

Social Media preferences:

Service/Volunteer interests:

Frequency of contact:

Preferred communication vehicle and style:

Competency and Skills Strengths:

Competency and Skill Gaps:


Development Plan:



Career Interests:


Bottom line:

    • Engage them and they will do well.
    • Ignore them, and they will leave, or worse - stay and check out.
    • Respect them and they will return it.
    • Relate to them and they will be yours.
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Bonnie and the Boomers

Last night my husband and I went to see Bonnie Raitt at Wolf Trap, a lovely outdoor venue in northern Virginia.  It is one of those traditions that helps kick off summer.  We are big concert fans, and each year try to see 3-4 shows.  The last time I saw Bonnie was July 9, 1994.  It was my birthday and I had just moved to Cincinnati, OH.  She toured with Bruce Hornsby that year, and it was an incredible show.  What a talented artist she is.  So when the concert schedule came out and she was featured, I was thrilled to get lawn seats to the sold out show.  As many of you might know, the 'lawn' at these outdoor venues has its own personality.  As I get older, I tend to prefer seats to the lawn, and I will admit, I have been pretty spoiled in recent years with premium seats to shows like U2, Cold Play, Train, John Mayer and Maroon 5.   The last time I was on the lawn was at Merriwether Post Pavillion to see Jack Johnson a couple of years ago and while it was an amazing show, I vowed to never 'do the lawn' again.

 Wolf Trap is different. It is an intimate venue which allows you to bring coolers and adult beverages of your own!  The ritual begins by arriving to secure a strategic parking spot around 5 pm.  (Exiting these shows can be a nightmare.)  They don't let you in to fend for your piece of real estate until 90 minutes before show time, so you schlep up to the entrance and wait with the other fans.  We arrive at the gate about 5:40 and there were probably 200 people ahead of us.  I looked around in delight to see that these fans were a sea of Baby Boomers.


As most of you who follow me know, I am passionate about Millennials and have been hanging out with a lot of them lately.  So obviously I am older than dirt by comparison, and my ego has been recovering from that. :)  But not THIS crowd!  I am actually a 'cusper.  A young Boomer, or an old Xer, or my new favorite subgroup I wrote about, Generation Jones.  But these fans were hard core Boomers.  I loved it!  I even saw a friend from college from across the crowd!   It made me think back to when I saw the Eagles, Heart and Little River Band at the Yale Bowl on June 14, 1980 (the last concert for that venue!).  I did not know it was EXACTLY 32 years ago that I saw them until I started writing this today.  So strange how that day came up so clearly last night.  It was all the same people.  Just 32 years later.  The same familiar energy. Driven, fun, laughing, light, and fabulous.  It was exhilarating.


About 7000 people attended last night.  And there was a lot of white hair, no hair, and colored hair.  And everyone was so comfortable in their skin.  There was a confidence surrounding me that I had forgotten I have earned.  As I approach 50 next year I have started to think about age more than I have in previous years.  I did not know I was 'old' until one of my darling 30 year old protégés clued me in that I am (compared to her.) But in this crowd I was actually young!  And it felt great!  These are the parents of the subject I have become obsessed with - Millennials!  And it is no wonder these Millennials are smart, tech savvy and want it now.  I looked around preshow and everyone had their smart phones out.  It was hysterical.  Wine in one hand, iPhone in the other.


I hold Bonnie Raitt in high regard.  Her music always spoke to me, and her energy is that of wisdom, grace and class.   She is very cool in my book.  And I won a few Karaoke contests singing her songs!


Mavis Staples opened for her, and she came out and played a song with her and the crowd roared.  It was so nice to experience her talent with such a civilized group of people.  It was a cathartic experience in many ways.  I embraced that I am a Baby Boomer in many ways, and I appreciate all the generations before and after me.  Today I am feeling grounded, centered and grateful.


We get to see Joe Walsh at Wolf Trap next. Now that crowd will be interesting!


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Skills and Talents for the Long Haul

In celebration of the Reverend Martin Luther King's birthday many organizations and the feds honor his amazing accomplishments with a day off.  I think it is an important day to recognize, and if he were to be alive today I'd hope that he would feel like his marches, rallies and inspiration changed the way we value diversity forever.  His words and sacrifice of his own life has made an impression for the long haul.  He has gone down in history as one of the great orators and influencers of our time.

I also took the day off and my family was invited by dear friends to join them at Massanuttan Resort in Virginia with their family.  It is a four seasons resort, and the weather had been cold enough for them to make snow, so the plan was to hit the slopes.   I long ago sold my old Olin IV 180 cm relics at a yard sale believing that if I ever ski again the equipment would be archaic.  I last skied in 1993, and the biggest memory I have from that was painful burning thighs and freezing icy conditions.  I moved to Cincinnati soon after, and skiing is not exactly a local sport there, so  I got interested in other things.

My husband had not skied since 1995 and we sold his skis last year in a yard sale. Kate, the 5 year old seemed to be interested, so we decided to get her a lesson in the resorts' Slope Sliders program which was just wonderful. Her teacher was Spencer, and the whole experience was perfect for her.  It was a solid foundational introduction to the basics, she sloshed around in her clunky boots, made snow angels, learned the pizza wedge and was able to successfully get on the innovative Magic Carpet conveyor lift that beat the heck out of the old rope tow that I learned on.

I was petrified.  My husband and I decided to rent skis and give it a whirl.  In case Kate wanted to take up the sport some day, it would be nice to do it together.  We rented the skis and the hardest part was getting the darn boots on.  I was surprised at how little the equipment actually changed.  Apparently the technology innovations have been reserved for the abundance of snow boards, and not for the ski rental industry. But that was OK, it was familiar.

We carried our skis up to the chair lift, snapped them on, held our breath and swished onto the quad chair lift.  Now there has been some nice changes here with a gate to stop you and release you when it is ready for you, a rubber belt then moves you automatically, and far fewer falls than what I recalled.  We made it, and sat down   without incident.  It was exhilarating actually!  I had forgotten how fun it was to look down and see the diversity of skiwear, styles and ages. Tons of kids!  I did not recall that many young children skiing in the 70's but, then again, there may not have been as many given the vast differences in the economy.

OK, it was time for tips up and to get off the lift...and we did it!  We did not fall and it was just as easy as the last time I did it.  I squealed with glee as I pushed off and headed down the hill.  It all came back.  I had originally thought I needed a lesson to refresh my memory, but the brain and the body are amazing phenomenons.  It came back and it really was like riding a bike.

It was wonderful for our egos, especially my husband.  He suffered a stroke in 2002 and has some residual right side weakness in addition to other things, but he did GREAT!

Think about our emerging leaders and the Millennials entering the workforce.  They are learning skills and talents that they will hard wire in for the long haul.  We only really get one or two chances to set the tone and get it right.  The brain remembers.  The body recalls what the stresses and pressures feel like.  I am passionate about giving them the tools they need, the resources and frameworks to help them get it right EARLY in their careers.  They may not use these skills right away, but they should be in it for the long haul, and as leadership development professionals, we need to be in it for the long haul as well.

How sustainable are our programs?  Will they traverse the challenging mountains of 20 years from now? Will they navigate the terrain and make it down the hill, and then back up again?

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