Let’s be honest… Millennials can be a difficult generation to lead. We’re restless; some might say impatient or entitled. We crave mentorship but hate the idea of being micromanaged. We are extremely passionate about our work but don’t have the same loyalty to organizations we work for as previous generations.
The unique characteristics of our generation have created new challenges for those that lead us. Just search “how to effectively lead Millennials” and you’ll find pages and pages of articles. Countless books have been written on the topic.
Today, I wanted to provide a bit of a different perspective. While every individual is unique, there are certain principles that you can apply to leading almost every Millennial.
The 5 Universal Laws of Leading Millennials
Here are five principles to help you manage and lead our generation effectively:
1. Define clear expectations and outcomes; then let us work.
Millennials want freedom and flexibility, but too much autonomy can be crippling. Remember, almost everything in our lives has been outlined for us up until this point. We enter the workforce after being told exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. It can be a shock for Millennials to learn the real world doesn’t operate in syllabuses and semesters. At the same time, we loathe the idea of being micro-managed.
How do you find the balance? Set clear expectations, tell us what outcomes we’re responsible for producing, and then let us work. Millennials can quickly become frustrated when it’s unclear if we’re doing a good job, but we don’t want you to hold our hands.
Clarity creates the focus we need to accomplish our goals. Flexibility allows us to use our creativity to find a new way to accomplish them.
2. Don’t just tell us what to do, teach us how to think.
Millennials realize we still have a lot to learn. At the same time, doing things because “that’s the way we’ve always done them” doesn’t resonate with us. Our world is changing rapidly. Millennials recognize that our jobs will look completely different in 10 years than they do today.
One of the most valuable things you can do as a leader is instill principles we can use to think through the challenges and obstacles we face. Don’t just tell us what to do, teach us how to think.
3. Tell us what we’re doing right, not just things we need to improve.
As the generation where everyone gets a trophy, Millennials expect to win. Because of this, we need positive affirmation for the things we’re doing right, not just the areas we need to improve.
Whenever you’re providing feedback to Millennials, remember to affirm the things we’re doing right rather than focusing on areas we need to improve. We aren’t opposed to your feedback, maybe just the way you share it.
4. Help us transform our everyday work to a bigger vision.
I recently heard Tom Ziglar say, “People don’t have a motivation problem, we have a dream problem.” That is a brilliant insight for effectively leading Millennials. Our generation isn’t opposed to hard work. We just want to know our hard work is making a difference.
How do you overcome the Millennial stereotype that we are a lazy, entitled generation? Help us see how the work we do every day connects to a bigger vision and helps us accomplish our personal dreams. Remind us whenever we lose sight of it. Share the perspective you have after decades of dealing with the ups and downs of work and life.
5. Show us how our current work is setting us up for future success.
The idea of dedicating our entire career to a company is a foreign concept for almost every Millennial. We’re constantly searching for work that feels like we’re fulfilling our purpose rather than just filling a job. We don’t feel committed to staying with a company for more than a year (or six months) if we find another opportunity.
Millennials are obsessed with finding our calling. If you want to lead us well, help us figure that out. Show us you’re committed to helping us succeed. Help us discover areas where we’re particularly gifted. Remind us how the work we’re currently doing is preparing us for that work.
Here’s something Millennials want older generations to know, we want to help you succeed. We want to learn from you. We want to work hard. Taking the time to think through how you can implement these principles will help you earn our commitment and trust to lead us well.
What are some other universal principles leaders can use to lead Millennials effectively?