How Millennials Best Play in the Workplace

Last week I attended the annual conference of Conscious Capitalism, and sat in on a breakout session on the topic of Millennials, or M’s. Kristen Hadeed, the 27 year old Founder of Student Maid, was the presenter – herself a Millennial. The audience, one of the largest of the sessions, was composed mostly of Boomers and Gen-Xers. She focused in on a few key areas and offered us some of the most insightful wisdom that we all can apply in present time to help this new, energetic and powerful generation truly blossom at work and become their higher and best selves in their careers.

The first topic she addressed was that M’s are afraid to fail! This generation was so protected by their parents that learning the lessons failing, making mistakes, and losing typically teach us was largely skipped over. Self-confidence and self-reliance are characters aspects that are therefore under-developed, and when M’s show up in the workplace they often hesitate to make decisions or take on full responsibility. Hadeed suggested we as leaders give the M’s our organizational values as a moral compass to understand what’s important and how to go about thinking things through to make better decisions in their roles. Turn values into everyday activities, and explain what you values mean by offering straight, desired action steps so M’s can see that failing, when attempting to do the right things, is often an outcome. Allow them to learn from failing.

I coach my clients, and hear this often more recently as well, that we leaders need to create an atmosphere that it’s “OK to fail.” If we are not trying, not looking for new solutions, not forging new pathways, then we are doomed to stay stuck, and prevent growth. In fact, some leaders go so far to say “Fail fast-Learn faster.” Life is messy and unpredictable, and if we are not learning by trying new things, then mediocrity and long-term failure will be the outcomes.

Hadeed’s next sharing was on why M’s struggle with feedback. M’s have been told since birth that they are great, that life is your oyster, and you can have anything you want. Somewhere in those helpful parental intentions M’s missed out on how to take in and give feedback that is so necessary for our own development both as a person and as an employee. She uses the F-B-I method and has all her leaders and employees trained on how to utilize it in any challenging, sticky or difficult situation between two people. It’s a three step conversation that addresses to another how you feel (F) about something the other did, what behavior (B) specifically the other did that trigger this feeling in you, and what the impact (I) is on you, the relationship, the team or the organization. This method works on all humans no matter the age, and it helps teach others on the impact of their words or behaviors.

Conflict resolution and problem-solving done well are so important to all relationships, personal and professional, yet we humans are so lacking in this critical skill-set. Hadeed reminds us of a simple yet very powerful and effective tool we all can learn and use in moments when things go sideways with one another. Many organizations are using tools such as this and others to help their managers and employees become more skilled at the art of effective conversations. I believe this is one the most important gifts we as leaders can offer our people, and it has such positive ripple effects throughout our communities. You can use this tool in your hiring process, mid-course corrective actions and especially in the performance reviews. How would such a challenging process be more beneficial if the leader went into it with their employee and said, “I want you to be the best version of who you are at work, because I care so much about you, and want you to thrive, and I have some feedback I feel will help you become such. Will you help me?”

Hadeed added such a wonderful nugget – “Leadership and Parenting are the same thing.” Tough love and tough guidance, done with the highest and best intentions is such a rare form of leadership, and one that we all can improve upon if we desire.

I asked her about M’s and are they more ‘purpose-driven’ and more interested in working for companies who have a sense of purpose beyond making money. She said she doesn’t feel M’s are any more or less driven by purpose than other generations, but the M’s are much more technologically savvy and tap into it when they are not feeling valued. M’s crave work that is interesting, fulfilling and full of learning opportunities, and if they are not getting that they can easily look for another job and jump ship. She shared that M’s are very loyal when they feel they fit in. When M’s feel good about their organization and their contribution, they are strong advocates – leaders just need to get them to ‘believe!”

In listening to such a powerful, articulate and wise leader in all her 27 years, I was so delighted and heartened that she shares the same perspective, that M’s are not the problem, that we all, in regards to the workplace, are so similar and share the same motivators. M’s have fears, especially around failing – so does everyone in every other generation. M’s need timely, direct, useful feedback, without any judging, shame, blame or degradation – so does everyone in every other generation. M’s want to work in place where the work and people are interesting, where they are learning and growing, feel they are a key part of the whole, and are fulfilled just by being there – so does everyone in every other generation. I imagine all her hundreds of employees feel much more connection to their work through her insightful leadership – and I left that session with such as sense of upliftment and gratitude. Thank you Kristen!

M’s are demanding a higher and better form of leadership. They will not tolerate being put into a box, told what to do with little or no explanations, wait for the annual review to find out they are failing, or work for leaders who cannot communicate or understand what really drives and motivates people. Kristen reminds us leaders we need to evolve and expand our awareness and understanding of people. We need to learn to be open and vulnerable in our communications so to connect more effectively. We need to explain our values, why they are important and give others guidance of how to work within their intentions. We need to encourage learning by giving them room to fail, and helping them see how to learn and grow from those experiences.

Leadership in the 21st century is not about judging, shaming, blaming others, or wishing things were the way we want them to be. It’s time we wake up and get real with the demands leadership requires. Leadership’s number one goal is to make others better, so the more we take that responsibility on fully, the quicker our people and organizations will reflect the higher visions of community, success, prosperity and happiness most people desire. If we can’t wake up to the new realities, we will be relegated into the scrapheap of just being someone others can’t relate to. People will end up losing ‘their heads, hearts, souls and eventually their hands when they walk away with their feet.’

Great leadership, like great parenting, is a choice in how we show up – Remember, it’s not about us, it’s always about them!

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