Listen to Jim Tolbert, CEO of Vista College, discuss the importance of mentors and what baby boomers and millennials can learn from one another in the workplace. Listen to the audio clip below or read through the transcript.
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Absolutely. And I think, in terms of soft skills, I even think about the ability to handle increasing demands. I think it’s a conversation that’s not talked about enough inside of companies. I think that learning how to deal with the stress-related situations that kind of come up, that last over a duration of time, is very, very important to the growth. And so you talked about that hard- and soft-skill piece there. I’m curious to get your ideas and thoughts on kind of what millennials and baby boomers can learn from each other. So share with me maybe a little bit about, what do you feel an emerging leader can learn and gain from a baby boomer that might be important to their leadership if they found relationships within their career to grow with? What could they gain from having a baby boomer as a friend in their career?
That’s a great question. I think there’s a number of things. And as I look at my career, and the things that I’ve learned over time, and what I would love to– the 2017 Jim would love to go tell the to the 1990 or the 1985 Jim. Boy, I’d have a lot to teach myself [laughter]. One is just having the perspective– sort of a higher-level perspective on business issues and understanding sort of unintended consequences, and secondary implications, and things like that. You’re not only trying to look through a straw and solve a problem. You have to be more holistic and just sort of understand all the other implications of it. Being patient in problem-solving, really going through the, “Here’s what I know. Here’s what I don’t know. Here’s the pros. Here’s the cons.” And at the end of the day, you don’t deal with a lot of easy decisions in life. You deal with hard decisions. And the more senior you get, the harder those decisions are. And being able to go through a thoughtful, non-frantic, decision-making process, I think is a great skill set.
“A lot of work-based situations are team-based. And being able to sort of have a holistic- as I mentioned before, problem-solving and being able to leverage other people, those skills that, again, aren’t necessarily taught in school well but as you get to be more senior in your profession, are far more important skills.” – Jim Tolbert, CEO of Vista College
The other thing that I think would be sort of an important skill, an important lesson learned, is the importance not only of IQ but EQ. Particularly when you’re in school, IQ is disproportionate to EQ. It’s about doing well on tests, and getting good grades, and getting all that stuff, all of which is very important. What is, however, equally important is the ability to work with others. A lot of work-based situations are team-based. And being able to sort of have a holistic– as I mentioned before, problem-solving and being able to leverage other people, those are skills that, again, aren’t necessarily taught in school well but as you get to be more senior in your profession, are far more important skills.
Absolutely, and I agree with you there. And I think that for the baby boomer even, what would you say that they could actually gain from having solid relationships with millennials inside of the workplace?
Okay. And I’m dealing with a perfect example now. So one of the things that I do as the CEO of my company is I go out to our various locations, and I do sort of a town hall meeting and state of the company speech. And one of the things I really appreciate is working with one of the young men in our marketing department, who I think easily falls into this millennial category. And I’m looking to him to say, “Okay, tell me how to most effectively communicate with the team.” I know how I would want to be communicated to, but that doesn’t mean that’s the best way to communicate with the team. And I think he has been incredibly helpful to me, in being a more effective communicator, by saying, “These are the messages that are going to resonate. Here’s the delivery mechanism. Here’s some humor that might work in your presentation.” And I think our partnership has really helped me significantly.
Wow. That’s [laughter] really, really interesting. And when I think about that in terms of– obviously, for you, because you guys haven’t grown to a hundred campuses, right, it’s a little bit easier for you to be able to gather that. But do you feel that maybe some leadership is a little afraid to kind of hear that sort of feedback on a consistent basis maybe from younger cohorts inside of their organization?
Yeah. But as I always say– one of my favorite sayings is, “Do we want to do it your way, or do you want to do it the right way?” And I do think there is some pushback. And I’ll got to tell you, there was something I got a lot of pushback on recently that I had to get my head around. As we always think about wanting to be an outstanding place to work, and motivating and engaging our employees is very important to the success of our company. And I think most CEOs will say, “Yeah, of course. Everybody wants to do that.” But how do you do that tactically? How do you do the things that are going to really energize your team is really a challenge. And again, there’s the classic or stereotypical, “Oh, we got to have foosball machines and beer on Friday.” Well, that’s not our culture [laughter]. That’s not what we do. But I’ll tell you, one of the things we’ve been in investing more in is more time off. We do birthday PTO’s. We do getting off early on Fridays. And again, not in a million years would I say, “Yeah, that’s what I want in my workplace.” That’s clearly what younger people want today, is they really value their time off. And I really had to get my head around giving people more time off. Was it the way to get more productivity out of people? And I must admit I struggled with that.
Wow. And I’m sure for you, it wasn’t just necessarily this struggle of, “This sounds ridiculous,” but more importantly, I think the struggle just is because, like you mention, when you were at McKinsey, you come in. You work. You put your head down. You probably do your 14-hour days, and there are no demands as an employee [laughter]. Your demands kind of come from the top down. And so to be able to allow a bottom-up approach, I just think speaks well to your leadership. But then also, I think you’re speaking to something that is very important for any leader out there to be able to hear, is that sometimes the best advice that you can give is the kind that you heard [laughter]. And that might be a hard pill to swallow sometimes when you are the decision maker, but I applaud you for that. And I’m sure what’s probably more interesting is that you probably get more productivity now [laughter] out of people just by instituting two little small things. Am I right?
Absolutely. And again, the feedback that I’ve gotten on the birthday PTO and the happy Friday’s, as we call it, has just been incredible. I’m like, “Okay [laughter].” I’m glad it’s working, so.