written by Mick Ukleja and Gabrielle Jackson

When You Say “Leadership”, Guess What Millennials Hear?

One of the most common complaints we hear describing today’s emerging generation is…

“Millennials don’t respect authority.”

“They text constantly, refuse to leave a voicemail, expect everyone to adapt to their way of thinking, and call me by my first name! Hey! I’m their boss!”

Millennials have a different approach to respect. For a Millennial, respect is earned. It’s not automatic, expected or given because of position.

This raises an important question. What if respect was a secondary issue? What if leadership was the real issue?

Leadership is thrown around in business and academic circles as the word de jour. Pundits and Presidents talk about its importance and complain about its absence. What leadership is, and what it looks like, is getting lost in translation.

There are 4 components to leadership: (1) it’s a process, (2) it includes influence, (3) it involves a group, (4) it includes common goals. Therefore, Leadership is a process where an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.

So here’s what you need to know. If you parent, manage, live with or work with a Millennial, this is what they often hear when you talk about leadership.

  1. Leadership is more responsibility…but not necessarily the good kind.

Ninety-one percent of Millennials aspire to be leaders. Many Millennials have been waiting for their “big break” at work. They are not apathetic. They are eager for the moment when they can prove to you (and to themselves), that they deserve to be there.

 Although this generation is highly confident, many Millennials also harbor a fear of not being adequate. This is common among achievers. It’s called the Imposture Syndrome. It’s the feeling that if they really knew me, they would think I don’t have the goods. Be authentic with your own fears and doubts to bring out the leader in them.

 Be aware that some Millennials may wait for you to give them a leadership role, but don’t be surprised or taken back if others enthusiastically volunteer to take on a new project.

 The Millennial generation is an ambitious one. Don’t misunderstand ambition as arrogance or a lack of respect for authority. They look forward to new challenges and are inspired by leaders that bring them higher.

 Coercive leadership manipulates others. Transformational leadership empowers others.

2. Leadership is a resume builder. Millennials have learned that to have a competitive edge when looking for a job, they need to have leadership experience. They didn’t make this up. There are plenty in this generation who have held titles such as Treasurer of the Key Club, or Director of Fundraising – even if the organization didn’t have a budget! From an early age this generation was trained to bolster their shallow resumes with advanced leadership experience. 

As a result many have been effectively prepared to work with and lead teams. Millennials thrive when collaborating in a team setting with self-assigned roles and distinct responsibilities. When reviewing a Millennial resume, keep in mind that leadership does not always translate into management for this generation. Nor should it. They are both important, but there is a difference. We manage things, activities and events. We lead people.

Often a Millennial’s leadership role does not come with a title. Help them discover that it’s not the title, but the experience of leadership that is priceless. Great leaders do not become great because they or someone else calls them great. They become great because they are serving. And sometimes that service is silent or in secret.

  1. Leadership is more than an award. Millennials have earned a reputation of being the “Trophy Generation.” As Gabrielle shares in her book, 5 Millennial Myths, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

 This generation has been called leaders and winners since childhood. So it would be very easy for adult Millennials to view leadership roles as either inevitable, or as an award for doing a good job.

You have the opportunity to teach Millennials that leadership is a responsibility to serve others and make them successful in their work. To a Millennial, an award is more than money. They grew up with prize boxes, and they can be just as satisfied with time off, flexibility to work from home, or even – by our standards – a silly award. One of the best awards you can give a Millennial is your trust.  Trust is everything to Millennials.

Just like respect, leadership is not given. It is earned.   Being put in a leadership role is not a destination. It’s the beginning of a rewarding journey of growth and discovery. Incentivizing high performing Millennials with leadership roles will engage them as they take more responsibility for organizational outcomes.

The Millennial generation has a unique perspective on leadership. They don’t see leadership tied to a particular role, but rather as an influence – sometimes quiet – on others.  They are fascinated with the transformational power that a leader can have on those in their sphere of influence – and the world itself. It doesn’t eliminate transactional leadership that exists in a lot of organizations. But it does elevate it by getting followers to transcend their own self-interests for the sake of the mission.

And that’s very motivating.

What is your approach to leadership? How is it different to Millennials? We would love to hear from you.

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10.07.2015

2 responses to “When You Say “Leadership”, Guess What Millennials Hear?”

  1. Bill Shumard says:

    Spot-on, as usual, Mick…what you described here is an accurate description of our organization’s culture as it relates to the millenials. This is priceless instruction to help us Baby Boomers navigate these interesting times…thank you!

  2. Teri Sawyer says:

    Great article and insights on the millennials who are going to be running our world! Best for us to embrace and teach them. It doesn’t hurt for respect to be earned. It’s a two-way street!

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