Guest Post by Kathryn D. Cramer, PhD

By now you’ve probably seen the poem written by 14-year old Jordan Nichols titled, “Our Generation.” It went viral a few weeks ago and was retweeted over 120,000 times!

Read backwards or forwards, the poem offers two deeply opposing views of the millennial generation. Take these first few lines:

“Our generation will be known for nothing.

Never will anybody say,

We were the peak of mankind.

That is wrong, the truth is

Our generation was a failure.”

And now reversed:

“Our generation was a failure.

That is wrong, the truth is

We were the peak of mankind.

Never will anybody say,

Our generation will be known for nothing.”

This poem is a classic example of the power of asset-based versus deficit-based thinking.

Asset-based thinking is a term I coined that means looking at yourself and the world through the eyes of what’s working, what strengths are present, what the potentials are. Conversely, deficit-based thinking is looking at yourself and the world through what’s not working, what’s wrong, the gaps.

Jordan Nichols’ poem has received so much attention not just because of its clever construction but because his messages — both the negative and the positive — resonate so strongly. So many people, many of whom are tasked with leading millennials, see the negative attributes of this generation rather than their inherent assets. As Jordan’s poem reveals, those are just as real and present.

Millennials and the Need for Meaning

What the poem also reveals is the need millennials have for meaningful work. In this increasingly chaotic and evolving business landscape, what they crave most is not stability, but a strong sense of purpose, a mighty cause. As Jordan put it, “Changing the world for the better.”

Your Mighty CauseAs I wrote about extensively in my new book, Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say and Do, if you can authentically hook your goals to a noble and mighty cause, you can motivate your followers to greater levels of engagement and performance.

People — and especially millennials — follow people, not just great ideas. When you have something meaningful to say, when you believe in and are living your mighty cause, you engender trust and commitment.

Take Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo’s chief executive officer. She has been focused on transforming the huge corporation from a “North American fun-for-you company” to one that lives up to the mantra, “Performance with Purpose” since 2006.

“It doesn’t mean subtracting from the bottom line,” she explained in a 2007 speech, but rather “that we bring together what is good for business with what is good for the world.”3 To fulfill this vision, she has been investing in the development of healthier snacks, campaigning against obesity, and reducing the company’s reliance on fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy.

Nooyi’s unrelenting and long-term mission to balance profit with social responsibility is the kind of mighty cause that inspires. For her vocal and soulful commitment to this mission, US News and World Report named her one of America’s best leaders in 2008. And PepsiCo’s 2013 fourth-quarter earnings show that Nooyi’s efforts are most definitely paying off in terms of the bottom line.5

So what’s my advice for leaders tasked with motivating their millennial employees?

Give voice to your highest values and beliefs. It will lead them to trust you and believe what you want to happen is important. Show your skin in the game. Help them to see you as someone they want to make a meaningful difference with.

About the Author

Kathryn CramerKathryn D. Cramer, PhD, is passionate about possibilities and potential. Emmy-winner, business consultant, psychologist, and author, Dr. Cramer has written nine books, including the best-selling Change the Way You See Everything. She created and has dedicated her life to asset-based thinking (ABT), a way of looking at the world that helps leaders, influencers, and their teams make small shifts in thinking to produce extraordinary impact. Her latest book, Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say & Do (Jossey-Bass, 2014), shows leaders how to increase their effectiveness through her revolutionary mindset management process, Asset-Based Thinking.

Follow Kathy on Twitter @drkathycramer and connect on Facebook.