During the past month, several individuals sent me the YouTube video of Simon Sinek discussing Millennials in the workplace. The interview is conducted by Inside Quest. The first time I watched it, I thought there were some valid points, but other elements didn’t sit well. After watching it several times, it became more clear that Simon Sinek got many things wrong about Millennials.
What Simon Sinek Got Right about Millennials
Before delving into what Simon Sinek got wrong about Millennials, the thing he got right is there is broader context to this generation. Many societal and technological trends impact this generation. Parenting approaches changed. Social media and digital devices emerged quickly. Each of these elements change people and how they live and work.
I would add in several other contextual elements. Millennials entered the workforce during one of the most challenging economic times since the Great Depression. Corporate and leadership trust continues to decline, and Millennials saw the impact of this on their parents through layoffs and corporate greed.
Context matters, especially as it shapes society and each generation.
What Simon Sinek Got Wrong about Millennials
Surprisingly, many of Simon Sinek’s comments are big generalizations including:
- Millennial traits: Lower self-esteem, highly self-absorbed, narcissist, and entitled
- Social media addictions
- Imbalanced relationships
- Job hopping, lack of patience
He often says “through no fault of their own.” After several repetitions, Simon Sinek’s rhetoric becomes condescending. Let’s look at each key area.
Millennial Traits: Self-Esteem, Narcissism, Entitlement, and Self-Absorption
Millennials are self-critical, more than other generations. As a Guardian article points out, “Millennials ‘stand out in their willingness to ascribe negative stereotypes to their own generation’ the study said. The older the group, the more positively they saw themselves, the Pew study found.”
Part of the reasoning can be that Millennials have accepted what Boomers and Generation Xers have been saying negatively about them. Another view can be they are more self-aware. The reality is likely in between the two.
All of these topics are difficult to nail down in any definitive way. Even narcissism carries different definitions, and the generational trends are unclear. According to the American Psychiatric Association, only one percent of the population would meet the textbook definition of narcissism. The surveys done are unreliable, leaving much up to interpretation.
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a professor of psychology at Clark University, states that it is “incredibly unfair to call Millennials narcissistic, or to say they’re more so than previous generations.” The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) attempts to measure narcissism, yet the results leave a lot up for interpretation. “For example, does agreement with statements like ‘I am assertive’ or ‘I wish I were more assertive’ measure narcissism, self-esteem, or leadership?”
The point is that generalizations can lead to inappropriate and inaccurate conclusions.
Social Media Addictions
Social media did not exist during the early years of a Boomer or Generation Xer. Mobile digital devices did not either. Today new technology trends and impacts exist, and digital devices are always on and ready. A fact evident as various generations participate in Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels.
Do we need to unplug? Yes. Do we need to prohibit digital devices from meetings? Absolutely. The same goes for the dinner table.
Millennials are more familiar with digital devices and social channels than older generations. No different than other emerging technologies during the 1970s, for example. One study puts the digital device usage as:
- Millennials – 77 percent
- Generation Xers – 60 percent
- Boomers – 42 percent
These percentages probably have changed since the survey.
As for the added social element, time may change how many hours are spent on social media. Millennials get it, maybe because of their inclination to be self-critical, and they are unplugging. Millennials are even leading other generations in unplugging during vacations. In a survey conducted by Intel Security, “49% of American millennials said they were ‘willing to unplug on vacation,’ but only 37% of people between the ages of 40 and 50 were willing to do so.” With mindfulness adoption and effectiveness, I expect to see more unplugging and smarter use of social media.
One final point. Let’s remember how social media is changing other interactions, including how and where purchases are made and how customer support is requested and received. We are going to be more active on social media because of how the platforms build B2B and B2C interactions and community. All the more reason to be mindful in our usage but also view and understand the use of social media as more than spurious friendships or dopamine addictions.
Is Facebook making Millennials depressed? Essentially, this is the question. Again, the data is not definitive.
“Ethan Kross, the director of the Emotion & Self Control Lab at the University of Michigan, who has co-authored several papers about Facebook, says the early research was ‘all over the place’ as to whether using the site boosted or depressed a person’s mental state.”
The survey many focus on is this: “University of Pittsburgh researchers surveyed 1,787 U.S. adults, ages 19 through 32, and found three times the incidence of depression among the most active users of sites like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit than among those who used them the least.”
However, the study does not say that Facebook causes depression. As acknowledged by the University of Pittsburgh researchers, “It may be that people who already are depressed are turning to social media to fill a void.”
Can extreme use of social media cause problems such as depression? The answer is yes. Most extreme uses of virtually anything can produce problems.
We need to develop real life relationships in our families, workplaces, and communities. A fact we need to act upon. Social media can help make some of these connections, but it cannot be our only connection. Again, a fact for Millennials, just as it is a fact for other generations. If most of our relationships are online, then we have a problem. We need in-person relationships to develop our compassion, empathy, and other social leadership skills.
As a side note, I see this today in Millennials. They want to connect with people in the communities in which they live. They are getting involved in charitable activities, industry groups, meetups, and other activities outside of work. We need to encourage and support these activities across the generations.
Millennial Job Hopping
Should Millennials be patient? Yes, but being patient is not waiting your turn. Being patient means doing the work to solve problems, collaborate on plans, and convert plans to action. Do Millennials change jobs? Of course. When I was a 20-something, I changed jobs. I had more than four job changes before 32. No different than a Millennial today.
Some of the Millennial surveys on job hopping border on the ridiculous. I remember one that had a 50+ percentage of Millennials changing jobs between 18 and 24. Think about it. Between 18 and 24, individuals are in college or trade school, and they are changing jobs – internships, summer employment, etc.
For me, the most relevant missed element is the economic crisis many Millennials faced coming into the workplace. To this day, many Millennials have a long way to go to make up for the economic impact of lower paying jobs, unfulfilling jobs, and unavailable jobs. If a Millennial takes a new job because of a decent pay raise and a better culture, of course they will take it. Most people would.
What may keep one at their current workplace is a supportive, challenging boss, trustworthy leadership, and an activating culture. Let’s measure how many of these organizations exist for Millennials.
Many statistics exist. If you want to use one, use this: “49% of millennials in our research say they would like to stay with an organization for more than 10 years.” Ten years cannot be considered job hopping.
The Millennial Point
Simon Sinek does good work, and he has helped change leadership for the better. I guess it surprised me that he fell into vague generalizations. I know it is easy to do, and some may say I did the same thing in my above points.
What I know is we need to let this generation develop. I dislike the negative comments made by “leaders” about Millennials. The fact remains – Millennials are the next generation of leaders. Boomers and Generation Xers will not live forever. Instead of degrading a generation, let’s support and challenge them. More than this, let’s have a meaningful two-way conversation. Let’s be open to learn and grow, no matter our generation.
The other thing I know is the data will change. Millennials are still a relatively young generation. Many are in their late twenties and early thirties now. As more Millennials age, the data will change with them, just as it has with other generations. Sharing what older generations learned through traditional and contemporary means is important. Sharing what younger generations learn through new societal and technological changes is important, too. In the middle, we find lessons to learn and mindsets to shift.
We should be concerned about the future of our leadership talent, but we need to do it in a way to set higher standards and goals. I hope the Millennial sense of purpose is real, and I see it often in my interactions with them. The challenge for older generations is to find ways to encourage and protect this sense of purpose. If we do, Millennials will be a great generation, and we can all be proud of our role in developing this generation.
My Millennial point is simple. Let’s make fewer generalizations and engage in more meaningful conversations between generations.
- What actions and conversations are you having to guide and challenge the next generation of leaders?
- What are you learning from the younger generations?
- What are you learning from older generations?
Join the Conversation
What Simon Sinek Got Wrong about Millennials in the Workplace
I recently watched several Simon Sinek videos and I found something ironic in them. I completely agree with his estimation on why companies are succssful and why marketing messages work (i.e. getting to the WHY) however I think he’s way off on the estimation of Millenials and here’s why i think that. 1st – Simon proposes that companies need to understand and communicate the WHY as in “why do we do the work we do”. The reason he speaks frequently on leadershp and advises companies is because so many are unable to maintain that level of focus/passion/awareness. Is it possible that THIS is the fundamental reason why millennials seem to continually be looking for that “passion”? It’s because we’ve socialized them to expect it and they are demanding that the companies they work for effectively reinforce the “why”. 2 – He also doesn’t approve of “Participation trophies” but yet expects that people should learn to follow their strengths and learn to work hard at their passions regardless of the reward. SO.. That means that devaluing the “prize” actually re-inforces the fact that the child who participates should matter more than who won the contest. The millennials are re-inforcing exactly what he advocates. The work should be about inspiration rather than a reward like “my boss told me I was good”. I think the point that is missed is that the younger generation’s behavior is holding the older generation to a higher standard and is changing the world of work in a way that is uncomfortable for the older generations. I believe there is a huge amount we will learn over time as these millenials start to take on leadership roles and bring their unique approach into the boardrooms. Exciting times!
Thanks – just saw Simon’s video – I found myself disagreeing and agreeing, so looked around for other responses. I think he gets the whole parenting issue wrong – he generalizes a minority of crazy, permissive parenting – the problem with parenting is conditional regard or lack of unconditional acceptance which is reinforced by a school system focused on high stakes testing and competition and that has a negative impact on self esteem. I agree with him about technology with Facebook adding a negative impact on self-esteem, making self-esteem contingent on outside approval. If the tech media was seen more as a learning medium rather than a social medium, things would be better In the work place Simon blames the system and corporations.
Allan, Thank you for your comment and insights. I like the idea of how social media should be less social and more learning. I think we get too caught up in our social networks and lose sight of how we can be better citizens, no matter our generation.
Thank you for adding your thoughts and perspective. Jon
It was a pretty good video. A lot of valid points. Though I agree most with the comments from SDB and points from your article. As I was watching the video I just kept thinking, “So tell people what your expectations are and require they do the work.” It’s creates an iffy and morale breaking atmosphere to treat people differently simply based on their age or some other ‘vague qualification’, such as their parents.
As a Boomer I taught my children to work hard and be responsible for what they say they will do. Are they perfect? No. No one is. But I helped them develop a good work ethic. I don’t want to feel, because of my age, or their work ethic, that we wouldn’t be given the same treatment based on assumptions of or actual behavior. I’ve seen behavior in the workplace that I wouldn’t let fly, but it does fly for one and not another.
Workplaces have a standard that all should be held accountable to, in a fair and impartial way. Mentoring and helping people learn those skills is what leadership is. Creating a different culture based on some of the things talked about in the video is not leadership, it’s playing favorites.
Thank you, Shelly, for your thoughts and perspective. Your point on creating a separate culture based on age is valid, and we should not take this path. Organizational culture will be much stronger when we come together to share our experiences and cross-mentor each other. Setting the right standards, expectations, and values are important across generations. Again, thank you for your insights and your work. Jon
I’m an entrepreneurial boomer father of two millennial children who are nothing like what Simon describes. They are humble, hard working and are hungry to learn from ALL people, no matter their age, race, religion or education.
They have a high sense of self awareness and awareness of the people around them. I’m not just talking about my children, but I’m talking about their friends, their peers, their/your generation.
Simon’s broad strokes of generalizing a generation is a commentary on his own observations whether they be personal or the research and data he has pulled from. I believe Sinek means well as he’s attempting to bring about change, especially among leaders of organizations who employ millennial’s.
In my experience, there is an uprising of millennial’s who are challenging leaders to lead by example and through decentralized leadership rather than top down centralized leadership. They are asking to be lead and asking for an opportunity to lead themselves. A leader who understands self leadership precedes leading others, earns the respect from all generations not just millennial’s.
A company where reverse mentoring is embedded into it’s culture, creates high trust, collaboration and a commitment to the greater good of the organization and less about the individual.
We all want to be part of something greater than ourselves, part of making a difference in the world where our voices matters and where we are making an impact one person at a time.
I agree, Sinek does good work. But, “let’s make fewer generalizations and engage in more meaningful conversations between generations.”
Thank you, David, for adding your perspective and experiences. I believe, too, that Millennials will challenge many old leadership assumptions and raise the standards of how we manage businesses, facilitate teams, and engage purpose. Rather than painting them into a wrong, unsupportive corner, we need to reverse mentor, as you suggest, and challenge them to focus in the right areas and have them challenge us to re-center.
The generational discussion has gotten off track. I am glad that individuals like you and others keep the right tone and approach to empower the next generation of leaders. Thank you, Jon
Well said- I would also be curious about Simon’s actual experience in the workplace and his expertise on company management.
Thank you, Patrick. I know Simon does consulting and speaking today. He has made a positive contribution to leaders. I think just missed the mark on this with too many generalizations. Jon
I am a millennial and I think he generalized more towards a great many. I tend to overlook those points critizied only because of my own personal experiences. I have six siblings all from the millennial era, two diagnosed as narcissistic, three with depression and all of us were rather coddled and given all the new technology of today. My parents always worked, so in a way they gave us whatever we wanted to cover the guilt they felt.
I am the oldest, none of us kids went to college, we all struggle working job to job.
After watching his video I completely related being awarded for things I didn’t deserve and if I wanted something I never was made to work for it. We have had no structure or were forced to believe we had to achieve our goals ourselves that the world owed us. We used our parents and even to this day are bailed out by our parents (not for last few years with me as I began realizing this wasn’t good to be enabled by my parents). Four out of 6 of my siblings abuse drugs. One is in prison because he thinks he’s above the law. All of us had a pager and phones young. Dinner is ridiculous because when we sit together everyone is on their phone. My sister puts all of her business on Facebook. Its a nightmare. I just had my first child and knew I couldn’t do what my parents did. I think Simon hit the head only because I experience it with my family and surroundings of people my age. Just wanted to say I do agree with a few minor details of yours but entitlement is something I see every day especially at work place.
Thank you for sharing your experiences and your thoughts. I do believe the context of the parenting changes have had an impact. As I look back, I know the changes we made in raising our kids, which was different than the way I group. We did over-give. The reason may be is because I grew up in scarcity.
There are contextual trends that impact generations. We need more conversations to share experiences like this.
Again, appreciate that you shared your experiences and insights.
Good article, very thorough and thoughtful. Honestly, I suppose I’m guilty of watching that video when it first came out and saying to myself, “Wow, what a great video! I’m sure it’s all true, and everyone out there could learn a thing or two if they just watched this!” Reading your article helped me see some critical points I missed.
I love that last point – one of the most frustrating things I encounter every day is sweeping generalizations. Politics, stereotypes, generational characteristics, etc. I think a lot of millennials may be predictable and have certain characteristics, but a lot of us aren’t like that. I want to learn more from older generations, and I’ve been blessed to have many humble and thoughtful mentors. On the contrary, there are so many perspectives, influencers, and articles out there that just reinforce negative stereotypes of millennials, which just makes me resentful and less inclined to be open for feedback and growth.
What are some ways millennials can swallow their pride and learn wisdom from other generations? And what are some ways older generations can swallow their pride and admit perhaps they don’t have the whole picture?
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and perspectives. Swallowing our pride is a good place to begin across the generations. We need to share our experiences without pre-supposed perceptions. We just need to be open to share, listen, and understand. From this, we will strengthen how we lead for both younger and older generations. Isn’t that the way it should be?
Grateful for your insights.
I have mixed reviews here.
I am a parent of two millennial young adults. One in college, one on their own, working in Manhattan. I am also a business owner about to turn 50. Old enough to have some sense (I hope) and young enough to still have some energy and stamina. I think Simon actually articulated many things spot on – as could be seen in the youthful doe-eyed faces in his audience. He nailed how they felt, and gave some rather insightful reasons as to their current state of emotional thought.
What I did not agree with however is that it is the corporations obligations to address their professional shortfalls and start a new form of professional engineering. Kind of a social engineering, but on a corporate level. I am all for eliminating mobile devices from the boardroom. That speaks more to corporate culture. But as for companies “having to pick up the slack for poor parenting” and “find ways to build their confidence and to teach them the social skills they are missing.” I just don’t buy it. That sort of plays into the problem doesn’t it? Being catered to is what caused this problem in the first place.
The best way to build confidence in yourself is create your own success. Companies need to train their personal and give them the tools to be successful, but then again, they have always done that through history. Why change? For once, a millennial needs to conform to another culture, a professional business culture, and actually be accountable for their own successes and failures. Unlike like participation ribbons, you don’t get points just for showing up for work. You must be productive. You must contribute. You must compete. Yes – actually compete! and have your performance judged by your results.
A millennial may have been an extraordinary, over-achieving student because they could retain information and regurgitate it upon demand. But to understand that information and apply it to real world applications and translate that into some degree of successful result, is what will differentiate a mature millennial from their idealistic peers.
Thank you for sharing your perspective! I agree there were some contextual elements that Simon raised as important considerations for really all generations. I won’t re-hash my thoughts, but I will add that personal responsibility is important for Millennials and all generations. Part of personal responsibility is self-leadership, meaning how do I work with others, how do I grow in my approach, how do I complete projects in a timely, resource-wise way, how do I collaborate, how do I achieve results, and more.
Results are important and, as I wrote in my last article, converting plans into activities into results is a vital skill to have and develop.
Thank you for adding to the conversation, and I hope we continue to have conversations here about how to develop as leaders and engage in more conversations between generations to learn from each other and strengthen our practices.
I have some comments regards what success is?
Being well adjusted to an unhealthy culture is not a symptom of success. Millennials are now looking within to decide for themselves what their real values are, what they truly believe in, are they making a positive contribution to the people around them. Success cant always be measured in merely achieving an objective. The way in which the object is achieved has the greatest implications. Business will change and attitudes will adapt to the new social landscape ushered in by the millennials. Millennials are looking within for happiness, they don’t measure their title or position or accomplishments as being who and what they are. They look at there relationship and the ways in which they achieve their objectives as their measure of success.
“Those who look outside, dream. Those who look inside, awaken” C.G.Jung
Thank you for your perspective. Love the quote you highlighted. The more we can encourage self-reflection and purpose, the better we will all be across the generations.
Thanks for the post Jon. As a millennial, I’m at the same job since graduating from college, and I’ve never had any social media accounts (I personally think they’re a waste of time). Making broad generalizations about a group can be a very dangerous thing.
Appreciate it, Sam, and especially adding in your approach and experiences. Jon
Hey Jon. Really enjoyed this piece. I felt like you were generous to Simon (who I love). You were rightfully critical when filtering his statements and larger cultural perspectives. Reminds me a lot of the video Alexis Bloomer did which went viral and the response I wrote on Chelsea Krost’s site.
As a Millennial, I love how Thin Difference is a place which calls us to our best selves, instead of indulging us or demeaning us. This site is vital to helping the generations win at work!
P.S. – Have you seen Simon’s response he just put out recently?
Thank you for your feedback and added perspective. It is welcomed! I have not seen the added video from Simon, and I am glad to see that people are more attentive about their digital device use and putting them away more often. I am also glad he welcomes the conversation on the topic, as I would expect from him. I welcome the conversation, too, especially when it is between generations. We need to spend more time exchanging experiences and ideas between generations than trying to classify each other.
I hope we continue more conversations and fewer generationalizations. I am grateful that you set this example!