How to be the next Mark Zuckerberg

The next generation is ascending to the top spots of corporate America and changing the way the world does business. While millennials bring a skill set unique to their generation, they also face hurdles not faced by their predecessors: the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.

The most famous millennial CEO is Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. He is by no means the norm, but he is the standard. All of 31, he commands the largest social networking company in the world.

According to Clarke Murphy, CEO of executive placement firm Russell Reynolds Associates, fearlessness has helped Zuckerberg avoid a key failing of many millennials: they won’t take enough calculated risks. Where they succeed is in transparency, flexibility, and the ability to capitalize on technology.

Russell Reynolds conducted a comprehensive survey of CEOs and found several personality traits that the top performers have in common. Murphy says, “You can see that some things jumped off the page: wanting varied activities, wanting to take more risk, being more action oriented, being highly adaptable at what they do.”

The advancements of the digital age have rewired our brains. And not surprisingly, the kids who grew up in this era have been affected the most. On two of the four attributes that distinguish C-suite executives, according to Murphy, the attitudes of millennials match them well: seeking varied activities and being adaptable.

But there are pitfalls. According to Murphy, millennials have trust issues and can have trouble with risk. And if corporations want to instill trust in their employees, there are a few things they can do. Sponsoring workers is important. This builds relationships and facilitates trust in the workplace, overcoming one of the challenges facing the younger generations.

In addition, Murphy says, companies can reward employees for “failing well.” While perfectionism can cripple performance, overindulgent hand-holding can inspire a false sense of confidence that leads to diminished performance. Accordingly, a careful balance needs to be maintained. The next generation of CEOs faces hurdles that could not be imagined by their predecessors—not only technologically, but psychologically.

The next Mark Zuckerberg will be cut from a cloth different from any generation prior. To succeed, they’ll need to break away from their smartphones and build real-world relationships with their peers.

To be successful, Murphy says, “Take on the most difficult task you can. Don’t be afraid of what’s difficult. Become as international as you can—as quickly as you can. Take risk.”

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