The millennials, those crazy kids, aren’t exactly young anymore. They were born somewhere between the late 1970s and the year 2000, with the vanguard approaching their 40th birthday. This generation has been the focus of scrutiny since they were tykes. We have been trying to figure them out for a very long time. There are a lot of stereotypes directed at millennials, like ‘lazy’ and ‘entitled,’ but they also are tech savvy and quick moving. Certainly, they are going to help with explaining technology to the generations that came before them.
Millennials are an important generation to get to know, especially the ins and outs of how they interact as leaders. In my work as a professor at the College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, I tell students it does not matter if they personally are lazy or entitled. What matters is what everyone in the business world thinks they are. Perception is reality, and it’s one that needs to be overcome.
Teenage millennials watch up to three hours of YouTube per day, which is a significant shift our society is making – how technology and social media affect people in their daily lives. Cell phones have gone from being a way to get ahold of someone to an integral part of our lives. Organizations have tried putting in place policies and procedures banning employees from having their phones on them while at work. In some cases, they are specifically banning people from going to Facebook when they are on the clock. What if, instead of trying to resist this evolution of leadership, we try to build on some of the strengths?
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My colleagues at College of Southern Nevada say millennials are great at written communication but need help with in-person social skills. Their lives revolve around digital devices, so many have not developed interviewing or speaking skills that older generations take for granted.
In 2003, I started a financial literacy program at Boulder Dam Credit Union in Boulder City, Nev. Over the years, I have noticed they are a little less exposed to life’s dangers and a little too comfortable. Technology has led to easier access to information, which is good, but this has made us weaker in a sense. People think knowing math is obsolete because they have a calculator on their phone. They believe they do not have to retain information because they can Google it. We need to ask more questions so technology isn’t such a crutch.
Mark C. Thompson does a great job of asking questions. He was my co-author on the book, “The Strategic MVP.” Mark is a brilliant executive coach. He also wrote a book titled, “Admired,” which is about identifying the people we admire in our lives and the specific skills and characteristics we admire about them. If you use that tool and apply it to the younger generation, you can get to know what motivates and inspires millennials. As an exercise, this helps millennials improve their social skills.
Darren O’Reilly is a thought leader on millennials and Generation Z based out of Dublin, Ireland. He says he is uneasy with the term “young leadership” because to him there is no difference between young leadership and old leadership.
“Leadership is leadership,” he declared. “Many people believe years of experience make a great leader, but does time on earth alone actually make a leader noteworthy? It has been proven that a great leader is not defined by his or her age. Instead, it is an individual’s raw ability to inspire others to follow toward a specific vision that defines leadership.”
What if, instead of trying to resist this evolution of leadership, we try to build on some of the strengths?
Millennials are often called the “Everybody Gets a Trophy Generation,” perpetuating a sense of entitlement. Rather than older people telling millennials how to get inspired, Darren advocates that millennials need to figure out what to do to kick their own ass – and the ass of the stereotypes out there, like managing a more mature staff.
“Instead of whining about not getting the respect as a young leader, they need to engage in some honest self-ass kicking,” he said. “They need to show their passion. Break the gap between young and old. Lead by example and earn your place.”
People in leadership positions often are confused by millennials, Darren continued. He said older folks view them as constant job hoppers. He pointed out it is important to retain good people in an organization, and one simple is for older leaders to explain the company’s vision. “This generation seeks out meaning and input in the world,” he explained. “Simply punching the clock does not satisfy them. By giving them the vision and helping them to understand how their role contributes to a larger plan, it provides them with a sense of purpose and a feeling of value that motivates their productivity even further and makes them want to stay with the organization. It is important that the overall goal of the organization is clearly defined for them.”
At the same time, Darren said young leaders need to realize actions speak louder than words. He said they need to work hard and get noticed for quality work.
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“More and more people are realizing lifelong learning is a key to success. The No. 1 reason for leaving a job is when you have stopped learning, not for a raise or a promotion.”
A few years back Darren was preparing to give his first keynote speech at a conference. This was a big deal because he had always been in awe of those who spoke in front of large crowds. It was a three-hour drive to the venue, and at the time Darren was on a diet that had him drinking four-plus liters of water per day. Ten minutes away from the conference site, the four liters of water decided it wanted to vacate his body – as he was sitting in rush-hour traffic. “Having been to the venue before, I knew as soon as I parked there would be a restroom nearby,” he recalled. “I parked my car and ran inside, only to discover there had been a refurbishment and a change to the layout. By then it was too late, and I had a mixed feeling of relief and embarrassment as it ran down my pant leg.”
Darren went back to his car, grabbed some clothes and found a place where he could get cleaned up. One hour later, he delivered one of his best speeches to date.
“We should not be put off by someone’s perceived status. People might have been in awe of me as I was delivering my keynote, but little did they know an hour earlier I was wetting myself.”
“The incident humbly reminded me however far you go in your career, or how big you think you might be, we are all human,” he said. “We should not be put off by someone’s perceived status. People might have been in awe of me as I was delivering my keynote, but little did they know an hour earlier I was wetting myself. It always stuck with me that we need to remain humble. If you realize we are all human, it makes it easier to talk to CEOs.”
We receive a lot of advice in life. Darren says we can take advice whole-heartedly, we can adopt some elements of it, or we might think the person is full of it, and ignore what they say entirely. “The hardest thing in life is making your own decisions on what is right for you,” he said. “I was always a little bit indecisive, and had to learn to be decisive and make decisions that are right for me. Learn from people’s advice and mistakes, but make your own decisions because it is your life.”