Millennial Leaders: Welcome to the Arena

By May 22, 2013Millennial

Millennial Leaders: Welcome to the ArenaHeadlines seem to be afire with Generation Y or Millennial information and taunts of questionable characteristics. Time magazine dedicated a cover to the topic with the title of “The Me Me Me Generation.” While ODesk released a report entitled “Millennials and the Future of Work,” the Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC) issued Part 1 entitled “What will Millennials Think of American Business?

The reason for the interest may be about momentum. There are over 80 million Millennials, the largest generation to date. In addition, it is estimated that Gen Y will make up 46 percent of the work force by 2020.

Statistics, Statistics

“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” – Mark Twain

So, what do all these articles say? They say positive and some not-so-positive things. Here are some samples.

From Time:

  • 58% more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982
  • 40% of Millennials believe they should be promoted every two years
  • Millennials are dominated by peer interaction, more than ever before, meaning little interaction with older people

From ODesk:

  • 90 percent of Millennials believe being an entrepreneur means a certain mindset – being a self-starter, risk-taker, visionary and someone who “spots opportunity”
  • 58 percent of Millennials classify themselves as entrepreneurs without having to start their own business

From BCLC:

  • 41% of Millennials are satisfied with the way things are going in the country
  • In 2011, 160,000 startups were created each month and 29% were led by entrepreneurs between the ages of 20 and 34 years old
  • About 28 percent of Millennials are underemployed

Ignore Your Critics, Embrace Their Feedback

“Critics are our friends, they show us our faults.” – Benjamin Franklin

There are many lessons in the statistics. The first is to not get entangled in them. Statistics change. Times change. People change. The second lesson is to embrace the information. Learn from it. Understand it. Use it to ensure you are on the right path. Feedback is the lifeblood of any leader, and we need to embrace it in a learning, open way. We can discard what isn’t true or valid and we can learn from what challenges us.

Recently, I attended a session on leadership development for Millennial leaders, hosted at an ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) convention, the data was inadequate and about a third of the time was spent on Millennial humor. It is time to stop raising perceived differences and it is time to begin active listening and engaging.

The lesson is simple: Ignore the critics, embrace constructive feedback.

Welcome to the Arena! Lead from the Arena.

“…The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

What more can be said then this: “Welcome to the arena!” President Theodore Roosevelt said it well.

As a Millennial leader, the arena is yours, the good stuff and the challenging stuff. What you do while in it is up to you. You can let the critics distract you or you can lead with the purpose instilled within you. You can embrace the characteristics seemingly given to you or you can reach out to other generations and engage in meaningful conversations.

What do you do when you are in the arena? Well, simply said, you perform. Words can be hollow; choices and actions confirm character.

Key things to consider:

  • Learn from feedback but don’t get bogged down with the generalizations.
  • Engage in active conversations across generations. There are willing coaches and mentors who will listen, guide, and encourage. Make your perspective known. Listen to their advice. Develop a leadership bond.
  • Embrace your positives and build upon them. There is much work to do so go do it in the best way you can.

What would you add?

Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

Latest posts by Jon Mertz (see all)

Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • […] his post, Millennial Leaders: Welcome to the Arena, John Mertz is taking a different perspective on millennials by asking them to focus on the […]

  • Brooklyn_Dodger says:

    Re Millenialls: There still is no substitute for networking with people with disparate ideas. They see things our peers do not. I always like to run ideas by other people so that they can poke holes in them. A different perspective helps because we have to match our audience in business, not our ideas of it. An example: Since it would take more programming to make a game program able to move its avatars from one level to another, a company decided to send out a version where they would teleport between levels, thinking that their clients would think the game was lame. The feedback they got was that the customers felt that this game was better than all the fancy ones out there since they did have to undergo fantastic manipulations to get to the next level.

  • Luke Roland says:

    Coming from a Millennial…this is really spot on. The world is going to look like a different place because of the millennial generation mainly because of their entrepreneurial mindset that they carry. I think one of the key points you mentioned is engaging in dialogue with other generations. This is where my generation is missing it. We tend to think we have it all together, but there is a lot to be learned from the generations that have been before us. I would also say that Millennials desperately want to be taken seriously and want the right to be heard, so the other generations should listen as well as mentor.

    Thanks for sharing. Also TR is my favorite president, and that is my favorite quote from him!

    • Jon M says:

      Thank you, Luke. Your thoughts are great appreciated. We need to make that connection between generations; it is rewarding for both. Both generations need to make the effort.

      TR is one of my favorite presidents as well, and I have many, many books by him and about him. He is a great example of living and leading fully.

      Again, thank you, Luke. If you would like to write a guest post sometime, just let me know. Thanks! Jon

  • lollydaskal says:

    I truly love this article and as many have mentioned before me, Numbers are great and they are important but what matters is the essence of the person.

    Who you are, why you do what you do is what counts at the end.

    Listening to self and others is important.
    Learning from self and others is important.
    Leading from within and with others is important.

    Great article Jon!

    • Jon M says:

      Thank you, Lolly, and your advice is essential – Listening, Learning, and Leading from within. Very grateful for your insights. Thanks! Jon

  • Great analysis and advice, Jon. Your post immediately made me think of the book, “Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics.” Even though it has nothing to do with leadership, it underscores the fact that statistics alone don’t tell the truth. We actively frame stories around numbers. It’s our interpretation that matters. Beyond that, to your question about what I’d add to this discussion, Jon, I’d say let’s not be bound by the limits of labels, i.e., Millenial, Gen Y, etc. Some fundamentals are timeless, such as what you pointed out about listening and engaging. I’d add that a good leader is someone who has the humility to know there’s always something to be learned from others and the openness to hear different perspectives and opinions, even if they may not all resonate. Whichever generation a leader belongs to, these fundamental qualities will serve one well.

    • Jon M says:

      Alice, Thank you for your feedback and insights. Humility is a spot-on add. Humility will keep Millennial leaders centered in listening and learning, which will translate into bigger leadership capability and story. Thank you! Jon

  • Hiten Vyas says:

    Hi Jon,

    Excellent post and I was intrigued by the stat from ODesk about 90% of Millennials believing being an entrepreneur means a certain mindset. This is exactly the way I would define being an entrepreneur. Even when I’ve worked in past jobs, I had developed the mindset of an entrepreneur, and was able to strongly identify with this label, internally. I subsequently took the practical steps to start a business.

    Thank you.

    • Jon M says:

      I agree, Hiten. I liked that linkage as well. Entrepreneurs carry a certain growth mindset whether or not they start a business. It is a good mindset to have. Appreciate it! Jon

  • Susan Silver says:

    “The second lesson is to embrace the information. Learn from it. Understand it. Use it to ensure you are on the right path. Feedback is the lifeblood of any leader, and we need to embrace it in a learning, open way. We can discard what isn’t true or valid and we can learn from what challenges us.”

    I really agreed with this point. I find that feedback is the key to moving forward in my ideas. The more you talk to people, the more you can see the faults in your plans and the more likely you are to find someone who will help you. You have to stay open and I think your message about listening to those from other generations is key. They bring a very necessary outlook to the picture.

    • Jon M says:

      Thank you, Susan, for that feedback and your insights. I agree. The more we talk to others, from different generations to different industries, we learn, grow, and expand our perspectives. Thank you for adding to the conversation! Jon

  • Chris Westfall says:

    One challenge I have with the statistics (and I suspect that this challenge applies for any Millennial reading the post) is: what about the folks that don’t fit the statistics? And, a follow up: what’s behind the statistics – from a Millennial’s viewpoint? While pundits and pollsters are quick to tell us results in broad brush strokes, I’m much more interested in the individual viewpoint of Gen Y. It’s a perspective that goes beyond the statistics, and I think that line of sight would add a great deal to your blog and your messaging. I highly recommend “The Millennial CEO” by Daniel Newman,, and you can also follow @danielnewmanuv on twitter. Here’s the story of a Gen Y guy who beat the odds and defied the statistics, rising to the corner office before his 30th birthday. And what he has to say about criticism, office politics, operations and social media might surprise you.

    • Jon M says:

      Thank you for your feedback and comments, Chris. I agree. There is more to it that than statistics. We need to embrace the Millennial perspective and share experiences across the generations. We cannot afford to erect statistical barriers between generations.

      We are trying to spark those perspectives and exchanges here. We are hosting posts and perspectives from Millennials as well as other other generations. We need to engage and embrace.

      I am very familiar with Daniel, reading his blog and in other social media channels. I will reach out to him to see if he would write a post here, too, especially with his “The Millennial CEO” book and experiences.

      Thanks again and look forward to more interaction in these important conversations. Jon

  • Alli Polin says:

    Numbers are just numbers… each of us gets to write our own story. My only add to key points to consider: Leadership starts with a relationship. We judge and assume and mock both ways. The only true way to lead is to connect, engage, and build a relationship across self-imposed barriers of generations. Thank you for taking the lead on this important conversation, Jon!

    • Jon M says:

      Exactly! Connect, engage, and build across generations are the actions to really empower Gen Y leaders forward. It is a two-sided activity. Thank you for adding your insights, Alli!

Leave a Reply