Leadership Success With Millennial Workers


Millennial workers, born between the early 80s and the early years of our present millennium, are, apparently, challenging to direct as employees. Some predict that we are likely to hear much of the following tongue in cheek description of this group.

“I’m entitled, narcissistic, self absorbed, authority averse and not likely to work under you for very long, because you don’t offer free snacks, and I don’t feel this entry level position allows me to change the world”.

Quite the testimonial.

Not many baby boomers or others in between, (who populate much of the higher echelons of organizations) are keen to hear this. One part of the difficulty is in the very idea that there can be ‘higher echelons’. Millenials are apparently not big fans of echelons. Yet, the population aged approximately 20 to 40 are the millennials and the foregoing is what many of them would nod yes to. That is too big a group to be labelled as a ‘problem’.

Now what?

Where is this ‘problem’? Such an idea arises from perceptions developed since birth. There hasn’t been a world war for quite a while. We live in relatively prosperous times. Our connectedness via the internet has given us a close to front row seat to see almost everything that happens anywhere on our planet. Technology seems unstoppable, no challenge out of reach. This group of humans has more computing power in their phone than many Universities had when their parents were students. We have a scene where it is possible to start to believe that we can do and have anything we choose. Parents of millennials are, I am told, typically permissive and say things  to their children like, “you can have/do anything you want”. The prior generations that parented through the lens of extreme frugality, fear of ‘the bomb’, and suppressed personal fulfillment have been replaced with parents for whom the ideas that are manifest in the millennial sector of our population are just the way it is.

Leadership success with this group relies on understanding what it is that motivates them and then deciding whether or not to give those things to them. The above description of this group does not speak to motivation, but only to what we might guess when observing from afar. When we dig into what truly motivates this slice of the population, the list becomes

  1. have a high, very high, interest in receiving feedback (surprised me)
  2. very keen about making a contribution
  3. have a definite interest in leaving a legacy
  4. in a hurry to make a positive difference (feedback now please)

A different picture.

Feedback – what kind of person seeks and values personal feedback? Although I secretly wanted to know more about how I was doing, to knock on the bosses door and ask for candid feedback, did not happen. I (and my colleagues in general) were cautious about feedback. The way feedback was delivered was (too often) so judgmental, accusatory,  seeking scapegoats, that the whole idea was kept out of sight until absolutely mandated by some kind of company law. Though some leaders had found ways to provide useful feedback it was still mostly a list of my faults, nicely packaged. So, these millennials, they actually go seeking it? The one thing that they must therefore be convinced of is that in amongst all that is passed along, there are nuggets that will help them to do a better job.

Why do they care so much? Look at items 2 and 3 and 4.

The basis of the most effective feedback is trust. If a person does not believe me then anything I say is just a talking head. Trust please. And yes, it may take some time and effort to earn.

So, leaders all, in order to find leadership success with millennial workers, build trust. Trust in self is a vital starting point. Trust that what you notice, through your lens of greater experience, will be helpful for this younger group to know. Trust that they want to hear and want to understand and want to do better. Remember what they see as the prize. Contribution, legacy and making a positive difference are powerful values based drivers. Hire millennials whose values align with those of your organization, provide trustworthy feedback and stand back. They want this. Help them get it. This is how to achieve leadership success with millennial workers.

Joseph Seiler MCC


PS: want to learn more about Trust, have a look a the following book. A good one

The Power of Trust, Oldfield     https://www.successthroughtrust.com/