Memo to Millennials: Five Reasons Why Intelligence Isn't Enough in the Workplace

workplace intelligence For two years, JC, 24, pursued his co-worker, Tessa. But she was in a relationship. Then, one day she wasn't and she let JC know that she had been feeling the same way about him. Two weeks later he got a job offer he couldn't refuse, but that meant relocating 1,000 miles away. Tessa told him she didn't believe in long-distance relationships. She gave him a choice: the relationship or the new job.

"It was a really tough choice; it was the job of my dreams, and yet, she was the woman of the my dreams," JC remembers. "I chose the job figuring I could get her back after I became successful." He didn't.


Ah, the benefit of hindsight. It's something Steve Tobak, managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based firm that provides strategic consulting, knows well.

As an executive writer and consultant for over 20 years, Tobak has the wisdom borne of many years of trial and error. He spoke to AOL Jobs about pitfalls that up-and-coming Millennials should avoid.


Q&A with Tobak

Q. What generation are you a member of, and how has the work force changed between the time you entered it and today?

A. I guess I'm a baby boomer, but I actually don't support generational profiling as a business tool. I don't think it has any relevance in the corporate or business world. That said, when I entered the work force in 1980 no bubbles had recently burst, there was no great recession, and there were jobs, which is not the case today. I think that's got to be the one glaring difference.


Q. If you had the chance, what are some of the things you would tell your "old" self?

A. When it comes to learning from the past, there's got to be a damn good reason to look back since you're probably better off just living in the present. Still, post mortems are certainly valuable exercises for learning from the past and determining what to do differently next go 'round. On second thought, I was so full of myself back then that I probably wouldn't listen.


Q. Let's say someone is willing to listen; what pointers would you give them?

A. First, brains will only get you so far in the real world. You may be the smartest person in the room, but your intelligence will only be marginally useful in the real world. If you're really smart, you'll work on your people skills, and treat everyone as you would like to be treated. That inspires loyalty, and together with smarts will make for a successful foundation.


Other pointers from Tobak

  1. You're not as special as you think. Don't take yourself so darn seriously. Walking around with an inflated sense of self will only create divisions -- not what you want when you're just starting out. You may be special, but not everyone has to know it. You're just another guy/woman carving a path; you may fall down, you'll rise up. You'll need that tough shell for what comes next.
  1. Jump in the deep end! It's much easier to take big risks when you're younger and have not acquired much "baggage." If you settle down with someone, chances are you'll have a much harder time letting go. Doing this will help you to achieve the following:
  • Opportunity and visibility. Being the low-man on the totem pole is pretty much an invisible role. No one notices you. That's something you have to change as soon as possible. The more you make your presence known, the better your chances are of moving up and the more contacts you will make.
  • Find your passion. Passion is something that you know it when you feel it. Once you have, things will get clearer; you'll find the drive and motivation to overcome any hurdles in your way. Passion makes you get the energy to pick yourself up and take on responsibilities.
  1. Going up ... and down. Succeed and fail -- a lot. No one likes to fail, but in this case, failure can provide useful lessons, as success does. You'll get important information from both scenarios, and the old "what doesn't kill me, makes me stronger," applies. Wisdom is the combination of all experiences good and bad; from these you will learn perseverance. As one commenter said, "if you fail 10 times, give up after the 11th try."
  1. Work to live; don't live to work. There's an old saying: When you're on your death-bed, you don't think about work, you think about family and missed opportunities with them. No one wants to grow old alone.

Tobak's favorite story on this topic is one he'd like to tell his younger self, if he would only listen: "Sometime in the future you'll meet someone, fall in love, and marry her. And when the opportunity arises to build a distributor network for your company in Europe, you'll take her with you, rent a car, and travel all over the place. Some of the time the two of you will explore and have fun, the rest of the time you'll do your business. Try to model your work/life balance after that trip. It works pretty well."


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