Group of millennials in a meeting

Want To Lead Millennials Well? Learn From These Millennial Executives

October 2016


With millennials representing more than one-third of the American workforce, managers and executives look for ways to lead them well. The internet is full of advice on how to lead millennials. In fact, a Google search for “how to lead millennials” yields 37.1 million results. And some of those articles are from “millennial experts,” a search that yields 711,000 results on Google.

I have a passion for both leadership and millennials, and I regularly read and write about each topic.  Much of what I read comes from non-millennials, and the advice given seems inconsistent with what I know about my generation. We will represent 75% of the American workforce in the next 9 years. If companies want to have a successful handoff to this generation, they need to lead well.

But what does it take to lead millennials well? The best answer to this question is simple: just ask a millennial. In order to lead someone well, it is best to ask what it takes to lead them well.  So I asked 4 millennial executives what they would say to those who lead millennials.

1. Empower your team

The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey says 63% of millennials feel as though their leadership skills are not developed. Millennials want to succeed in their jobs, but, according to that same survey, only 28% of millennials feel as though their skills are fully used by their companies. So what can companies do to engage millennials as leaders? “Empower your people. Give them everything they need to get their job done,” says Melanie Romanaux, CEO of Somedia Solutions. “Inspire them to get their job done.” 

To empower someone means they are given the authority or power to do something. If companies seek long-range health, they will begin developing leaders now. Give the authority to make decisions, and allow a safe place for failure. Offer support in the process, and guidance as needed. As author Craig Groeschel says: “If  you delegate tasks, you create followers. If you delegate authority, you create leaders.”

2. Think long-term

Often those who lead millennials attempt to project their experiences and understanding onto the millennials they lead. This approach is more about the leader than it is those being led. “Understand what motivates them may not motivate you,” says Matt Fischer, president & CTO of Bullhorn. Being able to understand motivations enables a leader to better engage and lead the team. 

As one thinks about the values that motivate the team, that thought process will inevitably transition to questions about long-term retention. This is a difficult question to ask, as Gallup discovered only half of millennials believe they will work for their company one year from now. But 60% of non-millennials believe they will work for the same company in one year. With this in mind, Fischer often asks this question to his team: “What do we need to do as a company so that you will be here in 10 years?” When a leader shows a willingness to make a change for the sake of retention, the employee is more likely to stay at the company and be more engaged in their work. 

3. Acknowledge what they do 

“Millennials thrive on acknowledgement and affirmation that we are doing something that makes a difference,” says Jared Freeman, CEO of the Alabama State Employees Credit Union. “Leaders have to do a better job at engaging millennials to feel like they’re making a difference.” Freeman is in a unique position to speak to this topic, as he became the youngest CEO in the history of his company at age 27. He leads employees ranging from college age to retirement age. 

Many labels are connected to the millennial generation. Perhaps the most common one is the “trophy generation.” Non-millennials assume this generation wants acknowledgement and feedback simply because of participation trophies during childhood. This sentiment is simply not true. Gallup reports we are more than twice as engaged at work when they received regular feedback from their supervisor. This number is also consistent with non-millennials. Regular, consistent feedback is one of the best ways to empower employees and keep them engaged. 

4. Treat them as individuals

“Don’t engage them as if you know something they do not,” says Chris Barksdale, VP of HR for Scripps Networks Interactive. There is no magic bullet or miracle strategy one can learn to engage this generation well. In an effort to be more effective in leadership, a leader may assume they know more about younger employees than the employees know about themselves. This assumption can be costly, as authenticity is a high value with this generation. For leaders to be most effective with team members, they must be able to set aside preconceived labels and seek to understand the individual. Approach leadership not from a place of expertise, but a place of serving.


This article was written by Wes Gay from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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