Why Millennials Aren't Ready For Leadership...YET

While with The 2% Factor, I have worked with hundreds of employees who have spanned every generation.

I can say with some authority that millennials are like no previous generation.

Not better. Not worse. Just VERY different.

I believe it is these differences that will make workers of this generation some of the most effective leaders business has ever seen...

...Or some of the worst.

What will decide this is whether millennials will take the time to learn about, accept, and celebrate the 98% of the world that exists outside of their own understanding...the thousands of shades of grey that may run counter to their values, beliefs, and perspectives....

In other words, the world of leading human beings.

Note to the reader: This article discusses general observations, conclusions, and commonalities re: an entire generation and therefore cannot describe each individual. However, the purpose of this article is to provide advice to millennials on how to develop their leadership skills while at the same time providing advice to non-millennials on how to more effectively interact and work with them. 

The Problem

An excerpt from an email I recently received from a 45 year old administrative employee reads:

"I have been working for this company for over 20 years and had a lot of different managers over that time...But I recently got a new manager who is some young 27 year old hot shot from a technology company and it shows. I am sure she is great with a computer but she expects the impossible from us.

She seems to think that just because she wants something completed or wants to get a certain result that she will always get it. She doesn't seem to understand that just because you want to something to happen, it does't always turn out that way. And when it doesn't, she can't deal with it. She gets really mean and while she has never said it to my face directly, I have overheard her telling other managers and employees how simple the job was and that we must be stupid. Last week, I heard her say that she wished she could just fire us "dinosaurs" and hire good employees that at least know how to "google" stuff. And don't even get me started on how she reacts if I need to take a couple of hours to take one of my kids to a doctor's appointment!"

Millennials Have Not Been Allowed To Fail

Understand the world in which millennials have grown up in.

The term "helicopter parent" was first used in 1990 by child development researchers Foster Cline and Jim Fay to describe the conditions where parents of millennials hovered over their children, preventing them from making mistakes or failing.

However, since this phrase was first coined, numerous studies in child development have directly  linked the refusal of parents to allow their children to fail with millennials general inability to cope with disappointment, loss, and failure

More mature employees have the gift of hindsight, which tells them that their most valuable learning and development opportunities arose from their mistakes and failures.

I am not pointing this out to excuse the bad behaviour of this manager but, rather, to merely increase the degree of understanding of why this person may be like she is.

Failing sucks. Failing without allowing your mego to take the failure personally is a learned skill.

The lesson for millennial managers is this: Understand that the most effective and skilled managers don't succeed 100% of the time. Everyone, including you, will make mistakes and fail at times. Your leadership will not be judged based on your rate of success but, instead, how you act and react in your moments of failure. Don't take mistakes and failure personally. See them as an opportunity to improve your abilities to manage and lead. And, most importantly, don't turn on the very people your success as a manager depends on.

The lesson for non-millennials working for millennial managers is this: Understand the interaction if your manager reacts poorly to mistakes and failure. While their anger may be directed at you, you are not the problem. Their adverse reaction to the mistake or failure is. Calmly and respectfully speak to your manager by saying something like this.

"Listen, I understand you are upset and disappointed at the way this turned out. I am too. But speaking disparagingly to others about your team and insulting us is both offensive and inappropriate. If you, as our manager, want us to do things differently to get a different result, we are happy to make the change but you need to teach us and guide us, not demean us." 

The key is to not allow your mego to get in the way and take the comments personally. Instead, see it is an indicator to help your millennial manager to develop into someone you can respect and trust.

Millennials Are Actually Good At Leading Other Millennials

Millennials are actually very effective leaders of other millennials...which may work fantastically in workplaces where all employees are under the age of 30 such as tech startups.

The reason for this is that millennials, as a generation, understand each others and know how to communicate with one another...better than anyone else.

They have all grown up in the age of the internet where an entire world of information is available at a second's notice to the palm of their hand.

As a generation, they have been raised to see participation, freedom of ideas, tolerance, and diversity as fundamental and "correct". 

Simply put, millennials understand other millennials and can therefore lead one another because they are, in effect, leading themselves

Where the problem arises is when they try to lead others not of their own generation.

From working with the employees of hundreds of organizations over the years, I have observed (anecdotally) that millennials, more than previous generations, have trouble relating to and interacting with people of different generations.

This difficulty stems from the fact that the world that millennials have grown up in is so incredibly different from that of previous generations.

Imagine you have to travel back in time to 1890 and explain the internet to someone.

This may seem like an extreme example, but it really isn't. 

Millennials don't know a world before the internet and smart phones put the knowledge of the ages at their finger tips, ready to be tapped into in an instant.

They have never had to wait for anything. Need an answer? Google it. Need to speak to a friend? text them. 

Instant gratification, not entitlement, defines this generation.

So for millennials, interacting with people of previous generations is much like interacting with aliens from far off worlds at times.

If you encountered an alien in your office, would you know how to interact and/or lead them right away?

The lesson for millennial managers is this: The secret to effective leadership isn't showing your workers how smart you are or how technologically sophisticated you are. The secret is taking the time to understand your workers...where they came from, what there experience has been, where their strengths, needs, and wants lie. The foundation of leadership is understanding...increase yours.

The lesson for non-millennials working for millennial managers is this: Like everyone else, millennial managers don't know what they don't know. When you are instructed to do something but you are not clear on how to do it or how it was communicated to you, respectfully explain to your manager that you need guidance on how to accommodate them. Again, don't let your mego create a problem by convincing you that because you have done it a certain way for 20 years, you don't need some kid telling you different. Instead, see this as a chance to improve your skills and ask for clarification, guidance, or assistance. Supporting you is the reason that managers exist, not the other way around.

Millennials Have A Definite View Of Their World

Due to their access to information via the internet and social media, this view tends to be wide but shallow.

A 2016 study found that almost 60% of millennials relied upon social media sites almost exclusively for their news and information because they contain brief, well-written content. 

An equal number of millennials were found to favour sources of information that had large communities of fans that reflected similar perspectives and values to their own. 

Further, the study found that 76% of millennials relied on news and information websites where the information was simple and easy to understand.

So how does this affect their readiness to lead others?

The most effective workplace leaders recognize and respect that the world is a million shades of grey

However, millennials have a very definite view of the world based on a set of values and beliefs that have been formed and reinforced by a vast amount of (reasonably) superficial information.

This means that millennials, as a generation of workers (and now managers), know a little bit about a lot of things and tend to seek additional information primarily from sources that validate and reinforce their particular views and beliefs as "right". 

They also have a need to disprove, invalidate, and argue against perspectives, beliefs, and opinions that run contrary to their own.

As children, millennials have been raised to never feel "wrong"...however the consequence of this is that they have grown into adults always believing that they are "right"

The lesson for millennial managers is this: Effective leadership of other human beings requires we understand that simply because our own perspectives and beliefs are right for us doesn't mean they are absolutely right. Only when we put our perspectives and beliefs behind us...along with our egos...can we accept and respect the opinions, perspectives, and beliefs of others that may be a polar opposite to our own. 

The lesson for non-millennials working for millennial managers is this: Understand the interaction. As your millennial manager transitioned into adulthood, they took over the task, started by their parents and educators, of continuously validating their beliefs and views on life by accepting only news and information hat reinforces these beliefs and views. Again, they don't know what they don't know. So, take the time to explain to them your position or circumstance. Help them, patiently, to see your particular shade of grey. 

Millennials Have The Potential To Become Great Leaders

As millennials advance in their careers toward positions of leadership, they have the potential to be great...or be terrible.

If they enter management roles, where they are responsible for leading a multi-generational work team, believing it is sufficient to lead everyone else as they would lead themselves, they will fail.

Like all generations that have come before them, it will be their willingness to move past the limitations that have crafted who they are so they may embrace the leader they can become.

The Law of Cooperative Action™ Professional Mastery Program was created for both millennial managers who want to stand out in their ability to lead others AND non-millennial employees who are finding it difficult to work for this newest generation of professionals. Find out more.