Many within the business world (myself included) coach, consult, and discuss the topic of leadership. There are some out in the business world that discuss millennials that are entering and currently working within various organizations. Something that isn’t seen very often are those that coach, consult, and discuss the topic of leadership of millennials.
In my experience, I have worked with, managed, and coached people that are in the millennial generation. I’ve had conversations with other leaders on millennials and their experiences working with and managing them. Regardless of who I am speaking with, the points of the conversation remain the same. Points such as “they are a completely different generation”, “they are difficult to understand and/or motivate”, “it’s impossible for them to focus”, “they are always on their phones”, and last but not least “they get down and/or give up too easily”.
Two of the most important qualities of leadership are empathy and perspective. As leaders, we must take the time to really seek and understand where our people are coming from. Although millennials are seen as a completely different generation that some of us may have a hard time understanding and engaging with, they aren’t much different from us. Like many now and in the past, millennials are trying to make their way through an uncertain and ever-changing world. We have all been there. We have all had our moments of doubt about ourselves, our goals, and our path getting to where we think we want to go.
So where do the differences come from? Ultimately, how we grew up. I can only truly speak from my perspective and the differences I see. But I also feel that I am in unique place. I am 29 years old, months away from my 30th birthday. In age, some may label me a millennial. Some may not. I feel that I’m right on the border between the millennial generation and generation X. My mindset however, is in a much different place. In addition to my mother, my grandmother and great grandparents were instrumental in my upbringing. I also had a number of mentors that are in my moms and grandmother’s generation. So, by nature, I understand the perspectives of those born from the mid 1920’s to the current high school aged kids born in the early 2000’s.
My generation for the most part grew up playing outside. All day everyday with the only major parameter of being inside by the time the street lights came on. We had to communicate, play together, and workout our differences on our own. We had some technology. One of the first computers my mom bought was a Gateway Computer when I was in elementary school. I always had a video game system going back to the first Nintendo and as birthday or Christmas gifts almost every game system since. Although I played them a great deal, outside was always the first priority. I also grew up an athlete. Hard work and dedication were key. Everyone wanted to win and be the champion holding the trophy at the end of the season. School was also a major priority. There was no such thing as an easy or bad grade. If I was having trouble with something I did extra work. I have memories of my mom making me do my homework over and over again until I got it right and could explain it. Communication, cooperation, team work, overcoming obstacles, and self-confidence are all attributes that came from many of the activates that took place when I was a child.
With millennials, things were done a bit differently. Parents dont’t push kids the same way. Kids also don’t play outside like we did when I was a kid. Many youth organizations have participation trophies and medals. Students receive completion or participation grades. If something happens, it’s never the child’s fault. Technology is everywhere. It’s in the palm of a child’s hand the moment they are able to pick it up and hold it. From this, the attributes of communication, cooperation, team work, overcoming obstacles, and self-confidence have developed very differently or haven’t had the opportunity to develop much at all. Yes, millennials have thrived within the structure set up for them as children and as teenagers, but in most cases as they enter the workforce or as many of us would say “the real world” many are more lost than ever. Their first glimpse of adult life is in many ways a complete contradiction to the structure and beliefs that they had growing up. They are encountering things they have never had to deal with and little to no framework with how to begin while at the same time struggling with their self-confidence.
As leaders, we must first and foremost understand that millennials are masters of perception. The technology in the palm of their hand has taught them to angle, filter, and ultimately manage everything they want people to see. As many of us know, what’s being said or shown isn’t always the reality. Rather than trying to place more parameters around them and trying to make them conform, we should have empathy and understand their perspective. Through that understanding strides can be taken to get them where they want to go. It will at the same time enable us as leaders to guide and teach them effectively, truely helping them to be successful.
It is my goal in this article to raise some awareness of the differences. This topic gets much, much deeper and the details along with the various moving parts within a situation can dramatically affect not just the relationship with a millennial employee but their self-confidence, career, and the success of the company.