Brittany Barden isn’t your stereotypical coach. The 29-year-old Kansas native and CEO has forgone a whistle and knee-high socks for a keen understanding of how Millennials approach the world of business.
Barden earned an online degree in social sciences from Thomas Edison State University, in New Jersey. Her first job out of college was as an academic coach for a national company. She moved from her home in Wichita and spent just over two years working in San Antonio, Texas. Barden, the oldest of five siblings, decided to relocate to Colorado Springs in 2012 after her family made the move from Kansas. She has since started her own company, Apex Generation Leadership, where she and her partners aim to create a professional environment for clients, where Millennials, Boomers (and everyone in between) can work in harmony.
How did you get into academic coaching?
I had someone helping me navigate the waters of college as I was looking at careers and next steps. When it was over, I thought, ‘That was kind of cool and I can help people for a couple years.’
The company I’d used was hiring, so I applied and started working there.
I was working remotely in Kansas but moved to San Antonio for the job. I lived there a couple of years and moved to Colorado Springs when I was 23. That was in 2012.
Mostly family — my mom and siblings. I have a sister, Alyssa, with special needs. She was one of the biggest reasons I moved here. We’ve always been buds. My mom still had three kids at home and moved here but I was working remotely and was my sister’s part-time caretaker.
I’d spent 2½ years at the company doing course development, online course development and college partnerships. I enjoyed it for the time I did it, but I really enjoyed the one-on-one connecting with people and helping them figure out their plans.
And you started your own business?
I was at the company coaching for almost seven years. I wanted, for a long time, to break out and do my own thing. I’d thought about it for two or three years but never got to it. I realized the value of coaching and mentoring young adults but I was really emotionally invested and didn’t think I could do it eight hours a day for a day job and find the energy to launch my side hustle.
Three years ago, I decided it was time to move on. I wasn’t in a rush though. I took a year and worked at a job that was totally different, a nonprofit running logistics at Save the Storks. They focus on supporting local pregnancy centers and women with unexpected pregnancies.
That gave me the mental space to launch my own thing. It was a slow build and things took off about a year ago. I’ve gone full-time supporting the business since September.
Talk about AGL.
We launched AGL in October. We have four part-owners. Two guys [Chief Marketing Officer Joshua Shi and Chief Knowledge Officer Edward Macdonald] moved across the country to make this happen, from Massachusetts and South Carolina. Our CFO [William Anger] is in Denver.
We’re really focused on helping businesses embrace the Millennial generation. The workforce will be 75 percent Millennial by 2025 and there are all these stereotypes — ‘Oh, the Millennial problem, they’re so entitled.’ And there are others who say, ‘No, that’s not true. We love our Millennial employees.’ But whatever side you fall on, we’re going to be the majority of the workforce. Some businesses seem to be struggling with making that transition.
Where do you come in?
We help Millennials develop the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, help managers adjust their leadership and communication styles to adapt to a Millennial workforce, or help company culture as a whole. They aren’t massive shifts and you don’t have to be Google to attract Millennials. But there are certain things that can be really helpful to understand. We can do individual assessments and team assessments, some consulting and training, and follow up with a coaching program. So not just pointing out the issues that need to be worked on, but we’ll actually walk alongside the team to implement those changes and grow the people professionally.
How do you create curriculum?
I am a professional certified coach with the International Coach Federation. … I’m now working toward my master’s certification. There’s a whole process. Coaching is really a model based in neuroscience and psychology and … is a process we have years of experience in.
The master’s certification requires 2,500 hours of hands-on experience and several hundred hours in training programs. I’m in the process of submitting recorded sessions to a board for review.
What are the biggest challenges clients are having with Millennials?
I think the biggest issues come down to communication. At the end of the day, the Millennials and managers aren’t broken. Most of the time, it’s that the way they’re communicating is broken. A lot of it can be generational. … The thing we really see the value in is pointing out some key things Millennials are looking for. Forty-three percent of Millennials are looking to leave their jobs in the next two years. I honestly believe most don’t want to if they can find a few things.
The first one is purpose — like understanding what they’re doing and how it fits with the bigger company vision.
Autonomy is another big thing — a little bit of freedom. It doesn’t have to be a ton, but working from home if my kid is sick or a day to crank through some information. Actually finding relationships in the workforce is another. A lot of businesses don’t think about that. You’re there to do a job and get things done. But taking some time to foster a relational work environment can be a key thing Millennials are looking for.
Have those things changed over time?
You know, I don’t know. We go back and forth as a team. Are these things every person wants? I think, on some level, they are. Purpose, autonomy and relationships seem pretty fundamental, but the other side is that with technology and the global marketplace, there are things about the Millennial generation that are unique and maybe these things are more important now than they have been for previous generations.
What’s the response to the company been like?
It’s been fantastic. People are really excited and every person we’ve talked to has seen a need for it. … We still have a lot of one-on-one clients because that was our base, but we’re continuing to build with businesses locally and across the country too.
What industries have sought your services?
Tech startups tend to be very Millennial-heavy and realize the need for growth in the employees. Millennials come in and have awesome skill sets but haven’t managed people before. Health care is one too.
How do you plan for a workforce that’s so in flux?
At the end of the day, who knows what will be the predominant field 10 years from now. You can’t prepare people for that the same way we did with trade schools. What my dad studied for engineering in the ’80s is irrelevant now.
That’s why I love coaching. We come alongside that person where they are and ask what the key things are about them that will carry through regardless. What are your strengths? Let’s tap into those. What are your values for life? How are you going to implement those through a very changing world? How will you develop skills and tools — not just knowing how to use PowerPoint and Excel — but how to learn quickly, think critically and how to find information and synthesize it and adapt really fast? Those are the things coaching can get into and it’s by tapping into that person’s strengths and gifts.