Managers and supervisors have always had much to say about millennials, regarding issues ranging from work ethic to staff turnover. “They move around too much,” observers say. Millennials have been referred to as the “strawberry generation”—easily bruised and unable to endure the pressures of work.
What is the best way to lead and manage millennials?
How should workplaces approach working with a generation that has been labeled as spoiled, entitled, and impatient?
The best way to lead a millennial, or find out how to, starts with actually talking to them, and listening. “Many would attribute our moving around to materialistic drive, but for me it’s all about people,” says Grace Chan, Senior Consultant at ROHEI, who is herself a millennial.
Gen X, the generation right before the millennials, are known for their work ethic; they are all about results. They are driven, motivated, and they expect millennials to instantly behave in the same way they did. What millennials have is instinctive awareness of the power of relationships. They are extremely sensitive to work dynamics and culture.
The “strawberry” in this generation is not a sensitivity to harsh environments but rather a soft spot for people.
“Many of my peers who’ve stayed long at their workplaces tell me it’s because of the people.” says Grace. “Coaching, people, and feedback—these make all the difference at the workplace,” adds Grace.
This agrees with what research points to—coaching and mentoring is the best way to manage millennials. The typical tyrant boss of the Gen X era may have been something that was tolerated in the past or even welcomed as a challenge, but for the millennial generation, a tyrant boss is not acceptable.
What is often misunderstood as entitlement in millennials is simply a desire for positive change, for meaningful interactions with colleagues, for finding purpose and meaning in what they do each day.
To lead millennials effectively is to tap on this value system and take a relational approach to leadership. What does relational leadership look like?
Relational leadership achieves results by focusing on people.
Many Gen X leaders may be averse to coaching, perceiving it as time-consuming spoonfeeding. But coaching is about building the relationship and asking the right questions. It contributes to talent retention; by making an investment in the coachee you are marking them as a valued member of the team. Coaching is proven to accelerate growth and development by as much as 10X.
Learning and growth opportunities are why staff stay in their roles, more than salary or type of company.
“Coaching is a win-win for both superiors and my generation. It allows a higher-level mentor to channel and develop the energy, skills, and resourcefulness I can bring. It also provides a challenge, highlights potential by drawing on my strengths, and allows me to acknowledge and understand my weaknesses,” Grace says.
2. Giving and Receiving Feedback
In a corporate world where gossip, politicking, and back-stabbing are expected, a leadership approach that creates a culture of honesty and openness is a breath of fresh air. It’s not easy to give or receive feedback, but it’s something millennials appreciate.
Open and honest communication is the beginning of a healthy working relationship with millennials. People who put a premium on people value transparency because it opens the door for trust.
“Honesty entails truth telling, and we have all heard the saying that truth hurts. We appreciate feedback because we want to improve and grow. Most of us have grown up in safe environments, and receiving feedback may not be a novel experience, but we are willing to learn. When I first entered the workforce and received not-too-positive-feedback, it stung.”
The relational leadership key here is to prioritise relationship over results. “The honest conversations I have had with colleagues and mentors have allowed me to open up and put my trust in them, fortifying these relationships,” Grace says.
“Once I had a good relationship with the person giving the feedback, everything changed. Wouldn’t you listen to people whom you trust and respect, knowing that they care and have good intentions?
Recently, I have had the great opportunity to work with people like that; colleagues and coaches whom I feel genuinely want me to improve, to succeed.”
3. Emotional Safety
Majority of the issues you may have with your team of millennials can be solved by this one thing: creating a safe environment. When you create an environment where they are safe—safe to speak their minds, safe to make mistakes, it changes the whole vibe and energy of the team. When you get rid of their reasons to fear, they respond with increased drive, energy, and passion.
Roughly fifty percent of ROHEI staff are millennials, and the years we’ve had working with them is testament to how much leadership style matters. At ROHEI our leadership approach is relational, and through the years we’ve applied various components of that: servant leadership, coaching, mentoring, and relationship building at the workplace, with a conviction of putting people over process. Many of our millennials have themselves become relational leaders.
“In a prior role, I was trapped in a culture that required me to constantly be on guard against work and blame that would be pushed around. This made me feel like I was alone in the midst of a battle, without protection and no one to help me. In this environment, when I was given developmental feedback, it was hard to receive and be driven to work on it. As one would expect, I didn’t stay in that position very long,” Grace shares.
Millennials don’t leave companies for the sake of being adventurous. They move around in search of a place to plant themselves and grow.
Millennials don’t leave companies for the sake of being adventurous. They move around in search of a place to plant themselves and grow. A place where they can trust their leaders. They’re not withholding their best work—they want to give their best, to the right company.
They have what it takes to be a high performing team player and leader. They’re just waiting for your relational leadership to win them over.