As part of Real-time Perspectives’ ongoing blog series focusing on millennials, we sat down with Michael Lomonaco, director of marketing and communications at Grand Rapids-based tech firm OST. At 35, he’s right on the cusp between Generation X and Y, but we think his perspective as a young executive is valuable. Read on for his thoughts on vulnerability, collaboration, and finding joy in the ride.
Real-time Perspectives: What do you spend your days at work “doing”?
Michael Lomonaco: I spend my days working across the organization – as a member of the OST leadership team, across our different solutions that we offer and, in conjunction with my team, developing and implementing our strategy as it relates to everything from branding to communications to go-to-market strategies, etc.
RTP: In a nutshell, why did you initially seek coaching from Barbara?
ML: My first time working with Barbara was through the Center for Community Leadership’s Leadership Advantage program, and it was a time in my life when I was going through a lot of transition, taking on lots of new roles at OST, going through a period of my personal life as well where I was struggling with a lot of things. So Leadership Advantage was a life-changing experience for me, but it was really just the start. There was a specific class when we were talking about vulnerability and we had a break and I just kind of opened up to Barbara and I think more than being able to open up to her was her ability to just listen. She didn’t offer any advice; she just listened and said, you know, it’s ok.
Eventually I joined the leadership team at OST and felt very strongly that I really wanted and needed some more one-on-one coaching, which we’ve been doing for about 18 months mow and it’s been fantastic. And then from there we’ve really developed more than just a coach/student relationship – Barbara is a friend and someone I can confide in. So much so that recently I was grateful for the opportunity to be recognized for 40 Under 40 and I of course had my parents there, my wife, my boss and former boss – and Barbara. And the fact that she was there for me for that night meant a lot. I don’t know that I would be where I am right now if not for her interaction in my life.
RTP: What misconceptions might people have when they hear the term “executive coach?” Did you have any?
ML: The great thing about Barbara is that because of the way she is, her engagement model, she just gets right into it but in a way that’s about listening and not necessarily trying to solve it. But people might have perceptions of what a coach does, think football, or some coach they had. I think Barbara quite honestly could just be called a listener. That’s what makes her so special. It’s her ability to listen so acutely that she hears more than just the words that come out of your mouth. And then from there it’s just really about the way that she appropriately challenges you to think differently and explore in a way that’s very safe, because some of that stuff can get pretty yucky.
I think when you talk about executive coaching, it’s not about big problems; we’re looking at slivers of things we want to be better at. It’s not that you’re a mess; it is just like therapy: you have to want to get better at something.
RTP: Give me an example or two of something you’ve changed – a habit, a communication tool, the way you think about something — since working with Barbara.
ML: Internally, 18 months ago I was dying inside. I was questioning a lot of my abilities, questioning what I deserved, both at OST and through other areas of my life, and I totally lacked self-confidence so how did I make that up? By externally being Mike at OST and Mike on a board, and Mike at home, multiple personalities, none of which were authentic. When I was uncomfortable, I wasn’t allowing myself to be vulnerable, and I wasn’t allowing myself to realize I was already at the table. So Barbara taught me to be ok with that, don’t think you have to have all the answers. Be ok with understanding that you are worthy. And that has been a struggle for me and even to talk about it is tough for me, but that is really at the core of where I’m continuing to work – it plays into leadership, being authentic, being vulnerable – that’s how it manifested itself, trying to apply that in all these different situations.
I still can’t get through that Brene Brown TED talk without getting all snotty and teary – it just has that effect. And it’s a good reminder when I’m struggling and I have Barbara to thank for stumbling upon that.
RTP: You’re 35, so you straddle generations X and Y. What do you think your generation is doing particularly well, professionally?
ML: The number one skill that I see that all of us can learn is this desire to collaborate. This idea of, I want folks with different backgrounds, ideas, and ways of thinking engaged on a project or solving a problem. Whether it’s here at OST or in other areas of our lives, I see that time and time again and I love that I see it more and more in our community. I mean, I think that it’s having a positive effect and people are looking at diverse collaboration as a huge opportunity to provide value in a way that I think hasn’t been done as well in the past.
RTP: What advice would you give to other people your age looking to move ahead in their careers?
ML: I think millennials get a bad rap. Some of it’s deserved and some of it is misconception. But I think I’d say two things. One is enjoy the opportunity to discover and learn new things – find the joy in the ride. I think because of different tools and technology, society has become instant gratification, and I think we want to learn it now and move on to the next thing. I don’t know that that’s great in a business or in any phase of life. You need joy and curiosity, and it leads to more knowledge, more opportunity to learn, to understand versus just memorizing. The other piece of advice is find a mentor, find someone, and make sure it’s someone you respect, you value their thoughts and ideas, and find someone who’s really achieved something. I look at West Michigan specifically and there is a plethora of folks who have accomplished a lot in their lives who want to pass that on and work with the younger generation and we have to do a better job of taking advantage of that. Find someone you meet with regularly, have objectives – it’s so crucial.