Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Leading Millennials

Volume: January 2017

Linda is on the cusp of the GenX and Baby Boomer generations. She is 50 years old. Linda is also a successful leader who has managed a team of her age-peers her entire career. She had never managed anyone who is much older or younger than she is. Ten months ago, Linda’s team had an opening. The position called for a professional with terrific technical skills, as well as the ability to collaborate with an array of high-performing professionals. The human resources department conducted interviews and subsequently recommended a candidate to Linda. Frankly, Linda assumed that HR would recommend someone Linda’s age. Thus, Linda was quite surprised when she walked into a conference room for a rubber stamp final interview and saw a 28 year-old millennial named Adam. Everything Linda had read about millennials was negative. They were supposed to be lazy. They felt entitled. They wanted everything to be easy. Linda’s comfort zone was shaken as she pondered the prospect of leading Adam.

In a moment, we will return to the Linda-Adam continuum. However, Linda’s negatively skewed viewpoint of millennials is not unique. The millennial generation is frequently maligned in the media, and portrayed as lazy, whimsical, and disconnected. Yet, my first-hand experience in coaching and training thousands of millennials is quite different. Millennials do have a work ethic. They can focus and deliver results. They are engaged at work (especially under the right circumstances). Yet, so many professionals seem mystified by the behavior of millennials and how, exactly, to lead them. You know, millennials are not from another planet. They are simply from another generation.

Well, back to the story at hand. With much trepidation, Linda hired Adam. Prior to his first day on the job, Linda received some advice regarding leading professionals from the millennial generation. Not only was Linda open to the advice, but she put it into action. Linda and Adam got off to a good start, and 10 months later are still going strong. Here are five of the key points that Linda embraced.

  1. Take OnBoarding Seriously. The old axiom of “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression” is true. How you structure and behave on the first day of their employment is going to send a big message to your millennial new-hire on whether this gig is for them or not.
  1. Build Rapport. If you come in guns blazing with all of the duties and responsibilities relating to their job, your new millennial team member will shut down immediately. This top-down approach will bear little fruit with the youngest generation in the workplace. Rather, get to know your millennial colleagues. Find out what moves them. What social causes engage them? How do they like to work with people? What scares them about the world? What do they find magical about the future? In the process of asking questions and learning, something meaningful will happen – your millennial colleague will also learn about you. The rapport that is established will enable both of you to perform and collaborate at your very best.
  1. Communicate! Yes, yes, this is common sense and sounds so simple. Then why is it so difficult to communicate with millennial team members? First, find out their preferred method of communication. Recently, I was working with a 7-person, multi-generational leadership team. I asked each of them to take a moment and answer, in their own mind, this question: If someone really needs to get in touch with you, how should they reach out? Here were the first four answers (I am not making this up): “Email me,” “Find me,” “Call me,” “Text me (guess who).” The point is we all have our preferred method(s) of communication. Find out what your millennial colleagues prefer. Share with them what you prefer. In other words, communicate about how you want to communicate.
  1. High Expectations. Once communication channels are discussed and rapport is established, an amazing stage is set: The opportunity to discuss mutual expectations. If you are reading this newsletter, you are a high-performing professional. And, high-performers have high expectations (of themselves and of others). Many leaders mistakenly believe that in order to lead millennials they have to have a soft touch and make things appear easy. Well, this is not reality. Millennials live in reality. Plus, they are very smart and well-educated. Clearly share your high-expectations with millennial colleagues. In addition, be open to what they expect of you. The results that ensue may surprise you – pleasantly so.
  1. Training & Development. Only engage millennials in training and development if you want to retain their services and their incredible talent. Earlier I mentioned that millennials are well educated. They are also voracious learners. Their thirst to learn and to challenge the status quo burns deep within them. Feed on that. Continually offer training and development to them. Remember, leaders develop team members in three key areas: Soft skills (think Leadership Simplified), technical skills, and organization savvy (i.e., the politics of your organization). There is much for millennials to learn. Help them grow. In the process, you will strengthen an already talented professional, and retain them for longer than you would otherwise.

Bottom Line: Millennials are the now and the future. Get to know them. Yes, even better than you know them now! Figure out how to optimize your communication with millennials or fellow millennials. Share tough and meaningful expectations. Help each other grow and develop a broad range of skills and abilities. The future is bright. It is your choice to think so or not. It is also your choice to position your organization for success. 

Until next time, be well.

Doug Van Dyke, MBA, CSP is a Tampa Bay based executive coach, leadership development expert, and strategic planner. To learn more about leadership development programs, coaching, strategic planning, or to have Doug speak at your next event, visit www.leadershipsimplified.com or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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