Leading Millennials Within a Productive and Positive Workplace

In the leadership seminars I facilitate, “millennials” always come up. Managers in the room groan and gripe, millennials get offended (understandably!), and the once happy atmosphere I had worked hard to create is destroyed. I see this happening in the workplace too! Here’s how to be a positive leader of millennials in the office.

Step 1: Please drop the stereotypes
Bottom line is: nobody likes to be stereotyped. Not for their gender, their race, their culture, their sexuality, their generation, or anything. I’m sure you can identify with at least one of these. No human fits into one neat little box, so the first step toward influential leadership with millennials is to drop the stereotypes.

We want to create a workplace where people feel good about contributing based on the positive leadership environment. If we’re writing people off and making them feel judged just because they happened to be born between 1981 and 1997, they’re much less likely to have a positive attitude and give us their all. (There are several schools of thought on exactly how the generations break down. For the sake of this article, I have used the Pew Research Center’s dates.)

Step 2: Understand the differences
Due to the pervasive child-rearing philosophies that were popular when people in the millennial generation were raised and the differing social and cultural changes during their formative years, many in this generation entered the workforce with a different set of expectations, values and skills than those from previous generations. For example, people in the younger generation may have spent the first 18 years having a lot more successes (earned or unearned) resulting in the expectation of more frequent reinforcement than the older generation may have been accustomed to. Being children of parents who came of age in an era of freedom and self-expression, and the increasing ease of immediate gratification with the internet and a booming retail marketplace, Millennials may value self-fulfillment and self-expression over loyalty and hard work. Also, due to the heavy increase in technological communication, Millennials may lack the comfort and confidence having difficult face to face conversations, and effective professional interactions.  None of this is their fault, and it is neither right or wrong, it is simply different than what the older generations may be used to. Understanding this can help leaders develop patience and mentor millennials on what they need to do to be successful in their jobs.

Step 3: Forget “should”
When we become more patient, we’re able to drop the dreaded, useless words that I hear all the time: “They SHOULD know” or “They SHOULD do that.”
When someone learns one thing for 18 years of her life and then is dropped into a world with a whole different set of expectations, your belief that they SHOULD know is irrelevant and unproductive. They DON’T know, and the more we cling to our expectations, the longer they flounder. Plus, you are frustrated, creating lost work, high turn-over, high stress, and lowering morale and engagement in your workplace.

It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, and frankly, it doesn’t matter why. In order to keep our businesses afloat, we need to figure out how to deal with it. The first step is recognizing our unproductive thought processes to help increase our patience. Then, let’s teach!

Step 4: Be a mentor!
If someone on your team isn’t doing what he needs to do to be successful, teach him! Help her! Explain why it’s important for the organization, for the team and for them and their future. Show that you are more than just an angry, nagging and ineffective manager. Show them that you care about their success. No matter when you’re born, you will always work harder for someone who cares and wants to work with you to maximize your success.

Step 5: Hold your team accountable
Showing that you care doesn’t mean that you don’t hold them accountable when they don’t do what’s required of them. You can show you care, mentor them and still follow through with consequences if they don’t correct the behavior. The key is in the delivery.

Don’t approach the difficult conversation with a punitive mindset. Be sure they know of any potential consequences during preliminary conversations and that they can make the decision of what to do on their own. Then, if they don’t correct the behavior, let them know that they made the choice and this was the next step you discussed. Also discuss what challenges they may be having and share your intent to help make them stronger, rather than wagging your finger at them. You will have a lot more success with this approach with any adult.

One of the keys to being an influential leader whom people want to work for is having these tough conversations well. If you want to get better at tough conversations at work or even at home, I highly recommend the book Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler.

Everyone’s in
Whether we like it or not, we need everyone we can get to contribute in a positive way to the success of our workplace. You can sit and complain about the unique challenges that millennials bring to the workforce, or you can make it better. Shifting your mindset about the problem is the first step toward a more productive approach to leading everyone in your workplace, including those who happened to be born between 1981 and 1997.

©Anne Bonney All Rights Reserved.


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