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Clash of Cultures - Leading Millennials

Clash of Cultures - Leading Millennials

By Barry Robertson

I am a Boomer with Millennial children. We taught our kids these values and we see them apply these values at work:

  • Independent thinking, inquisitiveness, challenging rote processes.
  • Valuing everyone’s contributions (the now-dreaded “participation trophies that Boomers invented for their children.)
  • Work/life balance is important, even while we Boomers worked 60 to 70 hours a week in direct contradiction to our teaching.
  • Stick up for one’s ideas and ideals.
  • Work harder, not smarter.

Millennials reflect the values with which they were raised. It’s ironic that the values were important to us, yet we push back against Millennials, instead of adapting a leadership style that builds on their values.

Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are wrestling with the “how to manage Millennials” question.  While this issue has been around for years, leaders still complain and struggle to adapt to the next wave.

Leaders Have No Option – They Must Adapt

By 2025, Millennials are forecasted to make up 75% of the world's working population. Pew Research reports that as of 2015 Millennials equaled Gen Xers at 34% of the workforce, and Baby Boomers fell to 29%. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, due to their years of experience, still take up a disproportionate share of leadership ranks, which leads to Culture Clashes as Millennials pour into the business world.

Sadly, many Baby Boomers, like me, gave up many of their 60s and 70s love, peace, and happiness values to fit into the corporate world. The Millennials, at least so far, are not as willing to make that concession, especially with their big belief in work-life balance.

Millennials grew up with technology, and enjoy their high level of connectivity and an accelerated pace of change. To them, knowledge is not power, it is something to be easily shared or acquired. All knowledge is a click away via Google.

Here’s real feedback that a Millennial had for his Boomer boss, which shows part of the gap:

“Bob needs to get in touch with the younger generation.  He needs to know trending technologies and what’s important to us that will help us make him successful. Put people in place in idea incubation centers to address customer needs and how to meet them.  Put smart, talented people in these incubation centers, small groups, and empower them with resources and funds to play and test.  Funding does not have to be big, but big things have been created in small garages.”

They also expect and demand leadership transparency and open honesty. No more “need to know”.  To Millennials, everyone needs to know who’s doing what, regardless of their levels.

Yes, Millennials can struggle at first with criticism, because they aren’t used to it. They were raised with “trophies for everything”, which was humorously depicted in the movie “Meet the Fockers”.  Leaders need to have patience with that.  Engage the Millennials.  Teach them how to think via 2-way chats. Add more positive reinforcement. Older Millennials have a better understanding of the value of criticism, and don’t fear it any more than Boomers did!

Leaders Who Solve This Puzzle Will Thrive

Millennials are still mostly idealists. They want a job with meaning in a strong work culture with maximum engagement.  They want development and real give and take mentorship.

Millennials need to strongly support their company’s meaning and purpose.  The company’s purpose needs to answer the question, “how does it contribute to the world?”  Millennials want to know that what they are doing matters.  They know loyalty is not a true corporate value any more. They saw what happened to many loyal employees in prior generations, perhaps including their own parents

So how do you leverage Millennial’s motivational drivers to better lead them?

  • Let go of the idea that the leader must have all of the answers.
  • Engage the Millennials in the formulation of the vision of the organization’s mission and culture.
  • Get used to leading by asking questions and fostering collaboration via small groups of scrums.
  • Model a facilitative leadership style that allows teams to build solutions, and learn by doing.
  • Stay involved, ask questions and offer insights, as they meet, keeping them aligned with the ultimate goals as needed. 
  • Encourage them to bring in people who can inject new information or other points of view.

With Millennials, take the time to gain buy-in, listen and engage, mentor and develop, and you’ll be impressed with the results. Great people leaders meet others in their model of the world.

If leaders exhibit humility and respect, and show strength in vulnerability as they engage, others will quickly meet them in the middle. With the right attitude and approach by the leader, chances are that all boats can ride the rising tide.

Stop Struggling Alone – Get Help!

At Stop At Nothing, we’ve been leading cultural transformation for over 27 years.  Much of our success is based on awareness of the dynamics inside people and between people at all levels and forms of diversity. Through our processes people learn leadership and teamwork behaviors that go beyond theory to increase effectiveness.  We help clients excel in real leadership and real conversations, while co-creating strong organizational and individual development cultures that empower resilience and sustainability through waves of change, and have fun doing it! Why not!

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