This is the third in a five part series focused on Millennials in the work place.
Many leaders are struggling with the influx of Millennials in the workplace. Unlike previous generations who were willing to do what they were told without asking questions, Gen Y is changing the rules. This isn’t a generation that succumbs to being managed — they truly embody the idea that you manage things but you lead people, and they expect real leadership as a result. Now, more than ever, it’s vital that organizations have leaders at all levels that understand this and focus on a few key things to bring out the best in Millennials.
To quote the brilliant Simon Sinek, you always have to start with why. If you aren’t clear on the “why” of things, and haven’t communicated it clearly, you’re going to struggle in leading your Millennials. Without understanding why they’re doing what they’re doing, and why the company itself exists is doing what it is doing, Millennials won’t feel engaged with any aspect of the organization. A common complaint I hear from leaders about Gen Y is that they ask too many questions; in fact, they’re sometimes called “Gen Why”. But in that joke lies one of the key secrets to leading Millennials: answer their questions and explain the “why”. Help them understand how what they do is connected to that question.
Communication flows in all directions. Gone are the days of strict hierarchy where communication happened from the top down. These days it’s all about multi-directional communication. That means leaders must encourage everyone to share ideas and listen to differing opinions without passing judgement. Feedback is vitally important to Millennials and they need to know you’re listening to theirs. They’re the generation that’s lived in a world of instant response and constant validation. Leaders need to increase the frequency of feedback they give and receive from Gen Y.
Forget buy-in, you want ownership. The corporate world frequently banters around the idea of buy-in, as though it makes an actual difference. The reality is you want Millennials to feel they have ownership of their work. When you dictate to Millennials, you alienate them. When you ask for their input, and include them in conversations, they feel valued and heard — and their dedication to you as a leader and their role in projects deepens commensurately.
Authenticity is your secret weapon. The traditional corporate way of doing things is decidedly inauthentic. Despite the lip service authenticity gets in marketing and branding, companies are more concerned about avoiding potential conflicts, disruptions and difficult conversations. Millennials aren’t interested in that approach. In fact, it’s an immediate turn off. All your leaders and teams should be open about the good, the bad and the ugly of what’s going on in your organization. By doing so, you create space for the collaboration Millennials crave. When you allow the possibility of innovation, and the opportunity to problem solve, Gen Y respects the “realness” of its leaders — and there’s nothing more jarring or obvious to them than “fakeness”.
Help them grow
Invest in their future, whether or not it’s with your organization. Show the Millennials you care about them and where they’re going by helping them create actionable professional and personal improvement plans. Then provide training and development opportunities that are in line with those plans. Gen Y is passionate about growing and learning and they’ll appreciate your efforts no matter where they end up later on. And as a bonus, this does nothing but good things for your overall brand and organization as you build a pipeline of leaders internally.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list of the ways to better lead Millennials, but it is a solid starting point that any leader in any organization can use.
Be sure to read the forth post in this series, Retaining Millennials.