Winter weather had delayed our arrival into Dulles. Pushing from the gate, we were 10 minutes behind schedule. Knowing that the blame for a delay would befall upon the flight attendant (FA), since the FA physically closes the door, I texted our company the reason for our tardiness—hoping they’d leave her alone.
We swapped planes after returning to Memphis, and upon my boarding of the new ship—my ship—I found a manager onboard engaged in a not-so-pleasant chat with my FA about the delay. The manager’s demeanor quickly changed when I asked, “Is there a problem?” She turned to see a fresh-faced twenty-something (holding a bag a Teddy Grahams) wearing four stripes, signifying my authority as captain.
“Oh no problem here,” she said while quickly scampering off the plane with her proverbial tail tucked between her legs. Unfortunately, the damage had been done. She had reprimanded my FA, who was now noticeably bothered. Not even a mouthful of delicious, honey-covered graham bear crackers could hide my disapproval.
The next morning I walked into the base manager’s office and professionally explained the delay and my frustration for my FA being dinged—or blamed—for the delay. My millennial spirit kicked in: let’s fix it; let’s make it right.
“We can’t.” she said.
“Why not?” I said, living up to the mantra of Generation Y—always asking why.
She gave a half-hearted response and eventually acknowledged the flaw in the system and ended with, “That’s just the way it is.”
The fact you are reading this and following publications such as QARA tells me you are someone that has an insatiable appetite to make the world a better place—and probably a little bit crazy. I cling to the 1997 Think Different campaign by Apple that paid homage to us “crazy ones,” saying that we “push the human race forward…” because those of us “who are crazy enough to think [we] can change the world, are the ones who do.”
So whether you hope to solve a major world problem or simply better the day of a co-worker, the truth is: how you approach change matters.
We millennials can easily outperform and outwork our bosses, which in some cases can be desired and expected, but if done incorrectly, our efforts become the live-action version of the blue-screen-of-death for our career.
Our actions aren’t meant to be malicious. We work hard because we attune to the reality of what needs to be, yet often we cross into the danger zone by driving progress beyond the comfort of our superiors. Be encouraged though. The following three ideas have helped me inspire change without alienating the powers that be; instead these practices have invited them to become allies in my quest to contribute.
1. Practice assertiveness with respect.
This is an old airline axiom for airline first officers (FO). Essentially, there are times when a FO will need to provide immediate critique to a captain (CA). Avoiding confrontation is not an option; it takes skill and finesse.
Same is true for anyone with ideas. Know that how (and when or where) the truth is spoken, your tone of voice, choice of words and body language matters. You can do this by determining your superior’s love language. For example, if said person values “quality time,” don’t drop your idea and bail. Spend real time with them (even if that means not getting what you ask for). Also, articulate your idea in their love language. Using the same scenario, one might share from their own heart why the idea will increase the quality of relationship between client and customer, or within the team itself. Caveat: don’t manipulate; humbly assert yourself and your idea, and be willing to do the leg work.
2. Own and hone in on your responsibilities.
In his book, Leading on Empty, Pastor Wayne Cordeiro talks about burnout. I remember later in my career when we’d work ridiculous schedules: an overlapping two-day, four-day, and another two-day. The duty and rest rules have since changed, but honestly, those were some mentally brutal days. I still remember having to shake the feelings of apathy before work.
Trying to impart change can zap you emotionally and tempt you toward this apathy. Pastor Cordeiro challenges his readers to discover what absolutely are their responsibilities and own them. It’ll probably be about 5 percent of your current workload. Most of the other items you can probably delegate—if so, do it!
Next, identify your concerns and make a conscious effort to no longer allow them to mentally tax your brain. For example, maybe the way people drive gets you all up in a tizzy. If you’re a police officer assigned to the traffic, that’s your responsibility. However, if you’re just driving to Dunkin’ before work, it may be a concern but you don’t have the ability to change another driver’s behavior no matter how long you blow your horn and complain. Pop in the Frozen soundtrack and let it go. You will make a far greater contribution and have the energy to do what matters eternally, so just focus on and hone in on your 5 percent.
3. Never stop learning.
In addition to my flight training, I also studied to become an aircraft mechanic. This additional knowledge proved useful many times. Once, while I was still a first officer, on a pre-flight I noticed that a cannon plug had come disconnected from its electrical housing. The captain called maintenance who tried to dismiss my discovery, believing mechanical intel from a FO was unreliable. When they learned I was a mechanic, they immediately trusted my insight.
Don’t rest on your degrees or certifications—they are the starting points.
Keep reading, keep seeking growth, keep inviting mentors to push you. Get those 10,000 hours which Malcolm Gladwell preaches: the 10,000 hour principle holds that deliberate practice is essential to become world-class in any field. Because knowledge isn’t enough. It’s knowledge plus experience—the doing—that grants you the credibility to be heard. (And remember: there is a difference between being heard and making excuses.)
Humble yourself, mind your own business, and never stop learning. In due time, as Proverbs 18:16 promises, you’ll be brought before the right audience and given the liberty to be heard… without jeopardizing your career.