Every manager in the country is talking about how to manage millennials. There are thousands of books written on the topic. There are hundreds of speakers and coaches out there teaching leaders how millennials think, act and behave. Millions and millions of dollars are being spent on millennial training. Yet, there is so much misinformation about the next generation of our workforce.
Many books, speakers and coaches are saying millennials are lazy. They are entitled. And they lack motivation. Many say millennials are difficult to work with. Want the corner office after two weeks at their jobs. Only want to work 9-5. Demand a month paid vacation. And want to work from their homes, cars, park benches and Starbucks. Who would want to hire millennial?
A few months ago, my company hired a millennial. Her name is Chantal. I’ve learned more about management…about leadership…about life…from this amazing 24-year-old young woman.
My interview with Chantal went nothing like I planned. I had a list of questions about the Marketing and Communications position we were trying to fill. The questions never came out during the interview. Chantal didn’t want to talk about the position or my company or if I wanted to hire her. She wanted to hear my story. And she wanted to share hers.
What I have learned from Chantal is millennials don’t care as much about “what” the job is. They care more about “who” the job is. Money, job title and work benefits are not what drive millennials. Two things drive them – purpose and authenticity.
I was not really interviewing Chantal a few months ago. She was interviewing me. Chantal didn’t care about the “position.” She cared about the “person” behind the position. She wanted to know if I was the real deal. She wanted to know if she could stand behind my heart. My values. My intentions.
And when a millennial does believe in the person they’re working with…they will work their tail off. They will be fiercely loyal. And they will dedicate themselves to advance the mission. But, only if they believe in the “who”. There lies the problem.
I have been working with youth for over twenty-five years. Spent much of my career traveling the world with Up with People (global youth leadership organization) and have founded two high school leadership development organizations – the National Leadership Academy and the Global Youth Leadership Academy. Over ten thousand high school students have participated in NLA and GYLA over the last nineteen years. If I had to sum up what I’ve learned most from youth… it’s that they can smell bullshit better than most adults. They can detect authenticity better than most people that are ten, twenty and thirty years their senior. Let me be clear, millennials greatest contribution to the American work force is this…they’ve called bullshit on our leadership. On our management style. On our values, authenticity and intentions. And if we want to do a better job managing and leading millennials, we need to start doing a better job managing and leading ourselves.
After I graduated college I applied to become a White House Fellow. The White House Fellow program is just about the most prestigious fellowship program in the country, if not the world. General Colin Powell was a White House Fellow – the list grows from there. I was named runner-up twice. Never made it into the program. But I remember the application essay question they asked us to write – If you were to advise the President of the United States of America on one policy issue, what would it be? I wrote about a mandatory 13th year of high school. A national service organization that every high school graduate would do before entering college or the work force. Not just military service, but community service and global outreach. I stated in my essay, twenty years ago, that we need a program like this to teach our next generation of leaders to not only have a sense of patriotism, but also gain a work ethic that I believed was missing from our youth. To teach young people that entitlement is cancer. That entitlement kills careers. Kills organizations. Kills communities. I still believe this, wholeheartedly, two decades later.
We have a lot to learn from millennials, but we also have a lot to teach them. They need to pay their dues. To learn the importance of working (and earning) their way to the top. Teach them that their work ethic is just as important as their ethics at work. And teach them the best (and fastest) way to climb the ladder of success is to help others climb there first. Once millennials understand this, I’ll be the first one to give up my corner office!