Leading with millennials

As the leader of the pack, you want to lead others to their peak performance with mutual enjoyment. You are likely to have people of varying ages in your team. Likely too there are a growing number of millennials.

Millennials are born between the late 1980s and the early 2000s. They are digital natives, characterised by their permanent access to the internet and technology. They grew up with digital media and devices. A poor WiFi service is simply inconceivable for them. For millennials, digital life is second nature and using digital technology is as unremarkable as needing air to breathe. Millennials take full advantage of technology in order to live the way they want. They choose the content they like and operate at a pace that suits them.

Leadership, with millennials in our teams, requires a shift in style from former times. In the past, leadership was simple, decisions were taken at the top and delegated to less senior levels for implementation. This leadership philosophy has become outdated, particularly in leadership work with millennials. My impressions are drawn from my collaboration with 3 online-based companies, two of which are very successful scale-ups. Both grew rapidly from around 20 employees to more than 200 and bought their way into a larger structure within a corporate group. Within these companies the 20 to 30 year old agile, fast entrepreneurial employees, interact daily with the 40 to 70 year old experienced executives. Cooperation does not always run smoothly. Sometimes there is a clash of generations which I see captured in the following conversation between two six year old boys. One of them asks his friend: “Hey, is it true that your father was born before the invention of smartphones?” The other replies: “Yes, that is true”. The first one asks: “Wow, incredible. Then your dad must have seen living dinosaurs too, right?” I find this story funny and relevant at the same time because it shows how perspective differs between millennials and earlier generations.

Compared to the generation before them, millennials expect different things from their working life, a different split between time and money, quality and quantity. Many also want a different level of professional responsibility. In the Baby Boomer generation, born in the 1960s, 60% of employees aspired to roles with formal leadership responsibility. Among millennials however, only 30% want formal leadership responsibility. They want more freedom to decide when, where and how to work. While in my generation, when you thought your performance was strong enough, you asked for a company car, millennials are accustomed to negotiating their terms at their recruitment interview, perhaps asking for a company bike and periods working from their home office during the week.

Some people may have the misperception that millennials are lazy. But they are not. They are just as diligent as the generation before them. They do, however expect different leadership behaviour and as a lead wolf, you must adapt.

What is missing for millennials in old world companies? Leaders in very traditional companies can sometimes lack the ability to handle criticism. In these companies, with closed offices and minimal exchange, a millennial could lack stimulation and therefore quickly become bored and dissatisfied. If they do not like their job, then they leave and change employers, much faster than their parents’ generation would have. To remain with an employer for life, is not worthwhile for millennials.

Millennials expect exchange at eye-level and a degree of freedom. More traditional leaders expect their employees to display almost endless effort and work long hours. As a result there may be misunderstandings and disappointments on both sides.

An example of this clash: When a young top executive, a millennial, mid 30s, one of the strongest executives I’ve ever worked with, recently quit her employment contract, her relationship with her boss abruptly ended. The supervisor was so disappointed that an exit talk was denied.

My interpretation: Millennials and baby boomers have very different expectations of each other. They have very different ideas about what the reciprocity between employer and employee should be. Millennials often know at a pretty early age what they really want professionally. They want a collaboration, responsibility and flexibility to work when they are most efficient. Furthermore, they have the courage to clearly ask or demand what they want. And as a lead wolf you are well advised to be aware of this and adapt to millennials’ needs.

Here are my 4 best tips for leading with Millennials:

1. Eye-level

If you lead millennials, then as the lead wolf, never communicate with them top-down, always be at eye-level. Do not deploy goals without conversation, but collaborate to create clear, demanding, sensible goals. Ask open questions and listen. Share your reasons for each decision. Ensure your team has a meaningful inspiring vision, mission and values ​​for your business, because millennials want purpose.

So tip 1: Eye-level.

2. Responsibility

Give millennials responsibility for topics that are challenging, so that they may have an opportunity to grow as individuals. Give them the freedom to find their own best way and provide them with coaching, so that their results can live up to their responsibility

Essentially: Give them responsibility.

3. Speed

To work well with millennials, one has to be quick. They are used to communicating on multiple and diverse channels, and they are used to making decisions quickly and communicating just as fast.

In summary: Communicate quickly.

4. Quality Feedback

When you work with millennials, giving good, clear, honest, fast feedback is even more important than with the older generation. Give high quality feedback that will help them learn and grow, and make sure they feel your real appreciation for their good performance. Then you will have success and enjoyment together. And if you are led by a millennial, then you will find it equally useful to make adjustments to balance expectations, and use their desire for collaboration to grow yourself. With the right attitude, experienced managers and millennials can learn a lot from each other.

To summarize: Give quality feedback.

Summarized my 4 best tips for you for leading with millennials:

1. Eye-level
2. Responsibility
3. Speed
4. Quality Feedback

Thank you for your attention,
your Stefan Homeister