A Millennial leading a team full of Millennials sounds like the perfect complement, right? It seems as if it would be such a great match! The leader and team presumably speak the same language. They must have the same motivations and instincts. Communication must be simple, right? Not necessarily. Sometimes it takes more than similar birthdays for a leader to perfectly gel with his or her team. Millennial leader Rob Bellenfant is proof that not every Millennial is stereotypically Millennial and occasionally even Millennial leaders need to learn how to lead Millennials well.
At first glance, Bellenfant, the twenty-seven year old CEO of TechnologyAdvice, might seem to fit the widely accepted Millennial mold. He’s an entrepreneur working in the tech space who was born during the appropriate time frame. But that appears to be where his list of Millennial character traits ends. It turns out, not every Millennial is a textbook Millennial. Rob Bellenfant is a Millennial leader still learning to speak Millennial.
The past two years have been a period of rapid growth for TechnologyAdvice. Bellenfant’s team has tripled in size growing to more than fifty people. Of those fifty, roughly 90% are Millennials. Working with such a concentrated group lead Bellenfant to realize that he thinks very differently than much of his generation. He explains, “I’m not a typical Millennial… I have a different approach than a lot of folks my age. There’s been quite a learning curve.”
To help navigate the curve, Bellenfant works closely with an intergenerational leadership team. Despite the preponderance of Millennials on staff, it turns out working across generations is intrinsically part of the organization’s success. The oldest member of that team, Susan Boutot is a Baby Boomer. But Bellenfant admits that she has been a big help in learning how to motivate and incentivize the team.
He also credits Heather Neisen, the company’s HR manager and a Millennial, with helping him learn to better communicate with the men and women he’s leading. Neisen speaks Millennial is helping Bellenfant become fluent.
I believe our leadership team has made the biggest impact on my growth and success as a leader.
One difference he’s recognized between he and his generation mates is his approach to problem solving. Bellenfant favors a single-handed approach. He prefers to be given the mission and then given space to figure out the solution. Bellenfant explains, “When faced with a problem, I want to solve it as quickly and efficiently as possible.” He uses the analogy of driving a car to clarify, “I’m going one hundred miles an hour and remain focused on the destination rather than the scenery along the highway. I want to get there as quickly and safely as possible.”
In contrast, his team is looking for more collaboration when faced with a problem. To continue the driving metaphor Millennials are concerned with the journey as well as where the journey ends. “The Millennials I’m seeing want to see the goal, talk through the steps it takes to get to the goal and decide on key performance metrics to hit along the way,” explains Bellenfant. He also learned quickly that they appreciate and expect communication and feedback throughout the trip. Comparing himself to others in his generation concerned with how their individual work plays a role in the company’s overall mission he says, “These are things I’ve never really taken the time to think of.”[inset width=”50%” float=”left”]
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He shares, “If you’re closed minded and always think that you’re right, it’s really going to stifle growth in any organization.” If the rapid growth TechnologyAdvice is experiencing is any indication he must be doing a really great job of keeping his mind open to others’ ideas.