We often see ourselves as mentors and coaches for younger colleagues, so we’re taken aback when a fresh new graduate comes in and has technical skills or new ways of doing things that we have never seen. Millennials (those born between 1980 and 1995) are quite different from previous generations, and the most successful leaders will be those that can adapt their leadership style to suit this growing demographic.
The rapid changes in technology means that Millennials usually know more about it than their more seasoned colleagues; we have been so focused on the day-to-day that we haven't quite kept up. They enjoy multitasking, thrive on frequent feedback and they expect a degree of autonomy in order to feel appreciated and trusted. Their tendency to value a flexible workplace and freedom in their roles above pay demonstrates a tremendous shift in the way in which we need to recognise and reward our high potentials.
I’ve personally managed people of all ages and backgrounds, and I must admit that managing Millennials has presented challenges that I haven’t faced as a leader up to now. There have been times when I’ve had to swallow my pride; such as when I've asked a younger colleague how to do something on LinkedIn that makes them roll their eyes because they find it so basic. I’ve also had to completely change a process that I’ve used for well over a decade when someone with much less professional experience than me came up with a faster, more effective way of doing it.
But it was my ability to swallow my pride that has made my working with and managing Millennials successful. I’ve always known that a good leader will adapt their style for every individual, but I’ve truly been tested on this by managing a growing group of young professionals. As with all leadership, you need a high level of self-awareness andto be able to connect with others. And with Millennials, that often means connecting with them electronically and giving them more feedback than I may do otherwise.
The real key though, is actively asking them for feedback about me as a leader. I’ve found most Millennials are open and authentic as long as they know the feedback will be used in a constructive way (i.e. I use it to improve my approach rather than brushing it off or reacting negatively). So I recommend setting up regular, informal chats where you not only review their performance, but give them a chance to turn the tables and review yours.
Keep in mind that not all Millennials will be tech-savvy or crave flexibility – every individual, no matter when they were born, is unique, but everything I said above is based on my personal experience as well as some interesting statistics found in our infographic about leadership.
Of course, I say all of this speaking on behalf of all those that are a part of generations before Millennials. But I’d love to hear what your thoughts are… do you agree or have you had a different experience working with Millennials? Or, if you are a Millennial yourself, what is your experience of working with people from other generations?
And don’t forget, you can learn just as much from Millennials as you can teach them. Reverse mentoring is a great way to capitalise on the unique talents, experience and skills of those individuals.