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3 Better Ways to Lead Millennials

Lead Millennials

Do ever feel like it’s impossible to get through to the millennials that work with and around you?

Even though you don’t fully believe it, all the talk about our 18-35 year-olds being lazy, the “me” generation, and painfully confused on how to “make a difference” starts to sound right after awhile.

And you’re not really confident about millennial leaders – are they leading their fellow millennials the right way? If they can’t even understand themselves, how am I supposed to manage them?

You’d think it was an impossible task, leading millennials. Or, at the very least, an uphill battle that will leave your hair gray and forehead permanently creased.

Here’s the scary part: it’s just the beginning. 50% of the world’s population is under the age of 30. Oh, and in the American workforce, millennials are about to eclipse baby boomers in total workers.

Millennials (people born roughly between 1982 - 1996) are expected to overtake Baby Boomers (1940 - 1960) in population in 2019 as their numbers swell to 73 million and Boomers decline to 72 million.

So, if you can’t lead millennials, it may be a long road to retirement.

But, there is hope. Plenty of hope. You just need a little tweak to your leadership style. It doesn’t need to be so challenging.

Actually, my teammate JC Glick and I talk about it here on the LSG Podcast. If you haven't heard it yet, take a listen!

Leading Millennials

You’re about to uncover the 3 not-too-hard principles I’ve found that help you engage your millennials to work harder for you. These are principles that actually bring out the best in them and hopefully the stress out of you.

First, Be Curious with Mistakes and Ideas

We’ve all been there…

You ask for something to be completed by a certain date and it’s not done. “Why is this thing always late?!”

Or when you show someone the correct way of doing something only for them to go and screw it up, time after time after time. “How many times do I have to show you this?!”

Oh, there’s also the times when someone comes to the table with an idea so ridiculous it makes you question how they even work here. “How did you make it to your 25th birthday thinking about ideas that bad?!”

Okay, that last one was a bit harsh.

But our reactions do relay our true feelings. It also sheds light on our lack of empathy for what we hope was an honest effort to do something right (by the way, if you don’t think it was a good effort, that’s also on you as a leader).

That’s why curiosity usually starts a discovery statement, not an interrogative question. Think “wow!”, not “how?”

“I want you to be mindful about time. Tell me more about what’s tripping you up on this deadline.”

“I’ve noticed that when you run this route, you seem to have trouble catching the ball. Help me understand that.”

“You’re always coming up with interesting ideas. I think we’ll be able to work on one sometime in the future. Where do you find your inspiration?”

Always be curious

This helps millennials put away a defensive mindset and actually tell you things. Even if they just need someone to hear their specific problem, that extra minute you take to listen makes all the difference.

A World Economic Forum 2018 Millennial Survey shows young people feel their voice is not being heard, as 55.9% of respondents to the survey disagreed with the statement: “Young people’s views are considered before important decisions are taken”

If your millennials don’t think you're listening, they don’t think you care. They can only tolerate you not-caring for so long.

That brings me to number 2.

Even your Accountability:Ownership Ratio

Okay, what do I mean by that?

Imagine a simple ratio of your accountability as a Leader to their ownership in the mission (their job).

A 1:2 ratio may signal – “As a leader, I am not fully liable for praise or blame for what you do or fail to do”… So what’s the point of having a leader?

A 2:1 ratio may say – “As a leader, I have taken upon myself to do more and, in turn, have given you less than what you’re capable of handling.” … So what’s the point of having a talented millennial?

A 2015 Work Place Trends Survey stated 39% of millennials said their company suffers from poor leadership. Millennials say that the biggest problems with their company’s leaders is their ability to develop others (39%) and communication (50%).

That same survey said about two-thirds (64 percent) of millennials would like their senior leadership to take on higher levels of accountability.

A 1:1 ratio may acknowledge – As a Leader, I have listened and given you exactly what you need to be challenged and inspired. I have made sure that I do everything necessary to make you successful by way of mentoring, educating, and inspiring.

Millennials have said they want purpose and to make an impact. They want gratification in their work and it’s your job as their leader to make that happen.

Of course, we know how important it is to “learn the learner”. Not every millennial is cut from the same cloth. People are people.

Which brings me to number 3.

Support by Choosing Between Validation or Calibration

When you praise, critique, or examine someone and their efforts, it can be a delicate conversation.

Millennials have quickly gained a reputation for wanting feedback, but hating the feedback once it’s delivered.


Part of that comes with the way you are delivering it.

As a rule, millennials do not get enough support in the form of feedback. When asked, “how do you know how well you are doing?”, 90% of millennials will say “if I do something wrong, I will hear about it.”

Too often this topic is discussed as if simple praise were the answer, but it is not.

Priase isn’t the answer. It’s Support.

You can choose to validate or calibrate.

Validation can be the simple act of acknowledging specific things that make people proud of their efforts:

“Hey, I saw you helped Jim finish that project after hours. Nicely done. We need more people like you doing things like that.”

Calibration is a little different. Calibration is used to course correct:

“Hey I noticed Jim was working late to get that project across the line and no one stopped to ask if he needed assistance. Do you think we could have done something different to show Jim that we care about him and the project?”

You don’t have to halt production and get everyone’s attention to praise someone. You don’t need to extract a pound of flesh to get your point across if something needs work.

Rather, validating someone’s effort or calibrating an error takes but a simple and firm statement from you.

The same 2015 Work Place Trends survey found that 91% of millennials aspire to be a Leader like you.

So the question remains: Are you leading millennials the right way?

About the author, Tim

US Navy Surface Warfare Officer.
Lacrosse Player.

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