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.

Simon SinekI 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.

Imbalanced Relationships

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?