As part of Real-time Perspectives’ ongoing blog series focusing on millennials, we sat down with Tyler Nickerson, Director of Investments and State Strategy with The Solutions Project in Washington D.C.
RTP: What do you spend your days at work “doing”?
TN: My job is to oversee the grantmaking and policy strategy for The Solutions Project. In many ways it’s a reflection of my career, which has been braiding together skills and communications and policy and program design and philanthropy. Those skills were rooted in my first job at the Eastown Community Association where I was an organizer working to keep people in their homes and making Eastown a safe neighborhood. That spark to seek justice, to get really smart about solutions, to help ensure that solutions are well supported and financed, are the pillars of my work. So now I get to do that on a national level working on clean energy issues and supporting community leaders in their quest to create healthy, active and vibrant communities.
RTP: In a nutshell, how did you initially connect with Barbara?
TN: I remember meeting Barbara at a party in the River House building, being introduced to her by Jennifer Crowley, and we had this conversation about my work and my age, which was something, being in leadership roles at a very early age, I’ve had to think through. And so we had this really amazing discussion in a matter of about three minutes and I enjoyed it so much that I said I’d like to work with her. What I like most about Barbara is she’s an “East Coaster” at heart and my family is from the Northeast so that sensibility and the directness is something I’ve always very much appreciated about her.
RTP: What’s it been like for you to have Barbara as a coach?
TN: There were a couple of times that I worked with Barbara one on one in addition to the group settings in Grand Rapids Chamber programs. It set a foundation for learning about how I can bring my whole self to the work, how I can be a dynamic, thoughtful leader that also listens and is receptive to all sorts of feedback. She helped me balance those tensions at a fairly early stage in my career and during my transition to D.C., which was huge both personally and professionally. I left my job and a consulting practice to make this move, so I kicked the doors open in my career, but that came through a lot of coaching from Barbara and others. It was really refreshing to work with her; while she pushed me, it was also very safe. I felt like I could be myself with her and expose the craziness that I am – that we all are – and do that in a safe space. In Grand Rapids, relationships are really important and it’s how change is made. Change happens at the speed of trust. I firmly believe that, and Barbara helped me build the trust within myself and with other people.
RTP: What have you learned from Barbara’s coaching style? Or what’s something you’ve changed about your approach to work or life since working with her?
TN: It’s this notion of a self-authored life and the part that was most impactful to me was this idea that I’m confident in myself and I’m confident that you’re confident. That, to me, speaks to a deep level of respect for others and the awareness that, when you hold those two things to be true, you can be a leader in pretty tough situations. I remember Barbara clearly teaching me this lesson and the way she spoke about it inter-generationally (because I’m 28 and she is not). The way she was able to talk about it and relate it to a number of different generations was really helpful. Her direct delivery, compassion, and relatability among generations stands out to me as really successful.
RTP: Speaking of generations, you’re a member of Gen Y. What do you think your generation is doing particularly well, professionally?
TN: There has been no generation with the same drive for change and the same intolerance for the status quo as the millennials. Parts of the Boomers in the ‘60s would certainly come close to that, but given the digital and technological capacity of our generation, we come with a great deal of natural capacity to bring about change, to think differently about the current state of affairs, and have the tools to very quickly drive change and respond in a quick, adapted manner. That is a unique position that millennials hold in the labor force. There are some strong advantages and some disadvantages. I see both sides. I’ve see millennials take it too far and not earn the respect of their peers – and I’ve see millennials bring about fresh ideas really well and make lasting change from the bottom up. To me, the capacity to see differently and to use readily available tools is something that uniquely positions us in the workplace right now.
RTP: What advice would you give to other millennials looking to move ahead in their careers?
TN: Listen, affirm, then influence. That’s a three-step approach I’m using right now in my work. I use it for people who are older than me or have different values than I do in a particular collaboration. As millennials we are often framed as not listening to the folks around us, but the value of listening is immense and has paid itself back in dividends. Not only do people feel bought in, but you actually do learn quite a bit by listening. And then to affirm: there are usually elements of what folks are saying in a space that I can affirm at a pretty authentic and deep degree. So I take a step to affirm what I can. And then influence in a way that doesn’t control but provides awareness and understanding of different concepts or different spaces. I think that’s a unique approach. Millennials were not taught the first two steps well, and we need to remember it’s the process of really understanding, then building relationships and trust, that leads to greater influence as time goes on.