Thank you for stopping by for the Feature Friday post. This is a new series dedicated to highlighting leaders, educators, and innovators. Today's feature is on Millennial Guide and Champion, Jon Mertz. Enjoy!
Jon Mertz found himself hiring a team of twenty-somethings a few years ago. As he was researching how to lead this team, he became inspired by the generation that will be what he calls the "next generation of great leaders." He serves as a mentor and resource to the millennials as they find their place in society. He is 100% dedicated to making sure the millennials succeed, and he says that by 2020, 50% of the workforce will be comprised of millennials.
In 2014, Jon was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business, and he's the founder of Thin Difference, a website devoted to busting the myth of the generation gap. Visit his website to be inspired while learning about millennials. You can interact with Jon on twitter at @ThinDifference.
1. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be everything! I grew up on a farm so being a farmer was in the mix along with a park ranger, police officer, teacher, pastor, and these are just the ones I remember. However, when I had an opportunity to go to Boys State and participate in a mock state government, I wanted to be in politics. This led me to a college major in political science and working in Washington, DC, for over seven years. It was an unforgettable experience, and I am grateful for all those prairie days that allowed me to think anything is possible.
2. What brings you the greatest joy?
My greatest joy now is seeing my sons develop and find their ways. Their paths aren’t always perfect but they are finding their way. I am proud of the work they do.
Outside of this, what really brings me joy is having thoughtful conversations and working with people who share some of the same passions in making a difference. Joy is found in doing what matters most.
3. How do you maintain a work/life balance?
The best advice I have been given was through example. My dad is a farmer. In good and bad times, he did the work, tried to be the best person possible, and stood up for what was right no matter the opinion. Farmers plant seeds and have great faith in growth. With all the elements beyond a farmer’s control, they still plant the seeds. So, the best advice given me was to plant the seeds, have faith. And do the work, do what is right.
4. What is the best advice you've been given?
Work/life balance is a myth. Instead, we need to find the right tempo in our life and work. Balance indicates having a foot on two sides. Tempo is a dance between life and work. Some work is work, and some work is life. Life and work intersect often. We just need to find the right tempo between the two.
Saying “no” to distractions keep our life tempo in beat. Developing a healthy mind and body keeps us fit for the dance. Being present in what matters most ensure we have the right music to keep our tempo. These are the things that help me keep a work/life tempo. Sometimes I miss, but I learn.
5. What is a new skill you would like to learn?
Lately, I have thought about learning how to play the guitar. Music is a talent I am always in awe with and, for me, it would be a fun to play a small role in bringing music to life.
6. What’s on your bookshelf?
My bookshelf is full! Some books I want to read in the months ahead, include Robert Caro’s fourth volume on LBJ, the new biography on Coolidge by Amity Shlaes, and Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators. I also try to work in a few novels to keep perspective and engage in stories that make me think.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
What I learned from my worst boss is to never be self-centered. Keep focused on the greater purpose and know your role within that purpose.
8. What’s on your bucket list?
I really don’t have a bucket list. My goals are to always keep learning, discovering, and experiencing new places and things. I really want to focus less on “stuff” and more on experiences. Each year, I try to go to one new, unique conference. So far, in the past three years, I have been to Wisdom 2.0, Story Chicago, and BIF 10 – Business Innovation Factory. I have met fascinating people and learned a lot from each. My bucket list is to continue experiencing and learning.
9. You just won the lottery. What one thing would you buy for yourself?
I would endow a professor in Entrepreneurship or Government & International Affairs at my alma mater, Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, focused on a mix of practical problem-solving and innovative leadership skills.
10. What’s your favorite book?
My favorite topic has been Theodore Roosevelt, and I have an extensive collection of books about and by him. Many of the books I have read about him are my favorites. I am always learning something new about how he approached life, leading, and solving problems.
11. What is your number one productivity tip?
Put it on a list. If it is important to do and needs to get done, write it out and keep the list in front of you until it is done. I am always amazed by how this simple approach works.
12. If you could have one super power, what would it be?
The super power I would like to have is to be inconspicuous yet being able to dash off and help others. I was going to say the ability to fly so I could skip the long security lines. However, then my companions would need to fly, too! Anyway, being an inconspicuous hero brings a human element to the super power.
13. Who is on the guest list for your ideal dinner party?
My guest list would include: Tom Peters to understand what lessons he learned through life and what he sees as the opportunities ahead. (One of the first business books I read in college was In Search of Excellence.) Seth Godin to understand how he really built such a big tribe. Seth keeps thinking a few steps ahead and poking us along the way. Peggy Noonan to understand how she writes and engages in conversations. She always seems very thoughtful, and I would add in David Brooks as well. David really makes you think.
I would also invite Janet Yellen. I met her in a videoconference in the mid-1990s and it would be wonderful to hear about how her life unfolded and how she leads now. And to mix it up a little more, I would invite Anne Lamott as she understands real life faith and what it means, and Steve Martin for a good laugh, good music, and wonderful stories.
How’s that for a dinner party? Sounds like chaotic, engaging fun to me!
14. What would people be surprised to know about you?
I am not sure I have any big revelations but some are surprised that I grew up on a farm in South Dakota and worked for an agency in the White House before going back to college to get my MBA.
15. What was your favorite class in college?
My favorite class in college was constitutional law. I didn't think it would be, but I enjoyed the preparation for each class and the subsequent class discussions. The class interactions were always spirited and thoughtful.
When I was in graduate school, I really enjoyed a class on frontline management. The class was taught by an entrepreneur and first president at Dell. We covered everything it takes to run a business and more, and it was all very real-world.
16. What quote do you live by?
"There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: first, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live - I have no use for the sour-faced man - and next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do." - Theodore Roosevelt
17. What is one thing you never, ever worry about?
I never worry about whether or not tomorrow will be better than today. Tomorrow will be better. I just need to be fully present and ready.
18. If you could swap places with someone from the past for one day, who would it be?
Theodore Roosevelt. He lived life more fully than anyone. Experiencing his robustness for life in one day would last me a lifetime! Theodore Roosevelt's public and family life was very engaging, and his adventures and writing always intriguing.
19. Who are your heroes?
My heroes are people who teach, lead well, and contribute to their communities. They do their work every day without much recognition, but they know what they are doing has a meaningful impact. My heroes are the people who make themselves better as well as those around them.
20. What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?
I wish I knew patience was a strength, and purpose takes time to understand and unfold. When patience, purpose, and diligent work combine well, anything can be achieved. I believe I have had a successful career so far but, with more patience and a stronger sense of purpose, I may have had more meaning in what I do a lot earlier than I did.