All Millennials Are...Different

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All Millennials Are...Different

Years ago, I participated in a diversity workshop that featured an exercise called “All Iowans are Naive”, the object of which was to expose the fallacy of stereotypes. And fallacious they are. I have two close friends who hail from the state of Iowa, and both are exceptionally savvy. Other combos in the game were things like “All Scots are stingy”, “All men are mechanically inclined” and “All women like to shop”. Those who know my wife and me, know at least one exception to each of those broad generalizations.

I know that there are those who hold onto these (and other) tired old stereoptypes, without regard for their inaccuracy and uselessness. But most of us know better than to give voice to those views, at least in commercial company.

So, why then, is it seemingly OK to think (and say out loud) that all people born between 1977 and 1994 all think, act, buy, and work in the same way? They don’t.

My wife and I have parented two millennials, and our daughter is married to one. These three young adults represent a nanocosm of the millennial generation as a whole. The three are very distinct from each other in many ways, including their career aspirations, the degree to which they rely on their mobile devices, employ social media, how they learn, how they work, what they like, how they shop. The list goes on.

And so I, for one, and I suspect many millennials (notice I didn’t say all…) have grown tired of hearing, as I have so often, that “These millennials are all very tech savvy. They don’t want to talk, just text. They want this. They want that. They expect grand rewards for modest results. They expect to be promoted quickly, without paying their dues. They have short attention spans. They want to be entertained. They feel entitled…” Nonsense!

First, to us Baby Boomers, and the older Gen Xers who complain about millennials, let me hasten to remind you that we raised them. So any blame, if that’s the right word, for the traits we don’t like, has to be shared, at least in part, by us.

But more importantly, millennials, as a demographic group, are no more homogeneous than, for example, women, engineers, Indians, heterosexuals, bald men, or Cubs fans. And so, when it comes to hiring millennials, leading them, working with them, or following them, to paint them all with one broad brush does a disservice not only to them, but to those of us doing the painting.

Look. I’m not naive (obviously, since I’m not from Iowa). I know that the generations are different. When has it NOT been so? But as we point out in our book, Rebooting Leadership, while the context in which we practice leadership has changed drastically, the fundamentals of leadership have not.

So, for millennials, try this:

  • Listen. Really listen.
  • Treat them as individuals. Listening will help immensely with this.
  • Show them how important their work is.
  • Reward them when they do great work.
  • Coach them when they need improvement.
  • Let them know you care about them.

And if you can find any demographic that would not respond well to any of the above, let me know.

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