With the average age of a CEO at 58 years of age, it’s clear that baby boomers possess decades of lessons to pass along to up-and-coming entrepreneurs. This knowledge share can prove invaluable to younger players that are navigating business ownership for the first time. But the instruction need not flow in only one direction. Young entreprepreneurs have wisdom of their own to share, approaches that could reinvigorate established businesses with a jolt of inventive spirit and drive. Here are just a few lessons older and younger generations can teach one another:
CEOs Know How to Play by the Rules
Every industry is riddled with complexities and roadblocks that the businesses thriving within it have learned to maneuver. Whether it’s a knotty regulatory landscape, rapid digitization, escalating prices, or market uncertainty, CEOs have figured out how to run flourishing businesses within the current milieu and position those businesses to weather future storms. They’re trained not only to capitalize on growth opportunities, but anticipate the obstacles that might hinder success, and effectively maneuver them. This precautionary problem-solving is acquired over the long-term, insights that newer players rarely grasp at the outset of their endeavors.
While entrepreneurs often function as change agents, successful CEOs create sustainable businesses. CEOs are experts at figuring out the long-term trajectory of a company and putting an organizational structure in place to support that growth. Effective corporate infrastructures, streamlined processes, and long-term business plans are all within a CEO’s wheelhouse.
CEOs Know How to Run an Established Business
Some CEOs have been with their companies long-term, helping to grow them from infancy. Many have likely been there long enough to have weathered a few major reorganizations, technology implementations and process improvements. These CEOs possess volumes of knowledge on what worked for them at each stage of growth and how the company needed to adapt over time.
Even in instances where a CEO is running a billion-dollar behemoth and a fellow entrepreneur is still struggling to make rent, the former’s experience and lessons learned can give shape and focus to the latter’s business plan. The CEO can help the entrepreneur see where she wants to go and establish a clearer vision for how to get there. With more access to the failures and successes of others, the entrepreneur can avoid common mistakes and efficiently establish a platform for growth. And that’s not to mention the many ways new business owners can benefit from networking within the same universe as their more established counterparts.
Entrepreneurs Successfully Manage Their Time
Jennifer Hobson Gormer recently compiled a book called kidCEO, where she helped successful child entrepreneurs share the secrets of their success. There were no shortage of tips from these small sages, but one common theme united their stories: how vital it is to effectively manage your time and prioritize. After all, these business owners are juggling all the pressures of entrepreneurship while simultaneously scheduling time for schoolwork and regular kid stuff.
Regardless of age, entrepreneurs learn quickly to navigate common time drains like email, meeting overload, and non-stop firefighting. Because they’ve needed to thrive in an amorphous environment with few resources and a scant organizational structure, the most common trap for an entrepreneur to fall prey to is allowing oneself to take an unstructured approach to time management. As such, many entrepreneurs can speak at length about inbox tools and services that help organize the influx and assist in managing tasks. They know how to avoid inessential meetings and structure others toward actionable outcomes and decision-making. They also know how to document processes and create playbooks for repeatable tasks, which aids with delegation and focuses all team members on execution.
This is not to say that CEOs have zero time management and prioritization skills, which would be patently false. But given the pre-existing structure and resources of their established corporate environments, they may not have needed to become productivity gurus to survive. In fact, studies show that while most senior executives should be following the 80/20 rule (80 percent of time allocated to important things and only 20 percent on the small stuff), many are actually closer to 30/70. If CEOs took up this charge, they’d execute significantly more high-impact, strategic work that could move the needle for their businesses.
Entrepreneurs Do Things Differently
Sometimes, different is good. Entrepreneurs can remind their corporate counterparts to stay nimble, always looking for holes or inconsistencies in the marketplace and seeking to fill them. Entrepreneurs are masters at creating new products, taking products from one industry and applying them elsewhere, and integrating two seemingly unrelated concepts to form something new. By absorbing a bit of this playfulness and creativity, CEOs can maneuver their larger organizations into new lines of business, products or other initiatives. Younger entrepreneurs have also been more unconventional in their leadership styles, yielding some approaches that have more effectively motivated their workforces and established a positive corporate culture. Some Millennial leaders have rejected hierarchical models or championed constant employee feedback. Plenty of atypical models are being tested by young leaders, approaches that might prove inspirational to CEOs hoping to better connect with their workforces.
Whether you’re a struggling entrepreneur or a Fortune 100 CEO, never underestimate what you can bring to the table or learn from others. Sometimes the best advice comes from someone whose challenges exactly match your own, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it comes from someone who dealt with that problem 10 years ago, or someone who’s yet to cross that bridge.