Over 35% of the US workforce is comprised of millennials: those individuals born between 1981-1996. These 26- to 41-year-olds make up the largest working generation and many are in leadership positions. These Gen Y leaders are reporting to either a baby boomer (born 1946-1964) or a Gen Xer (born 1965-1980), and they are leading teams likely comprised of Gen Zs (born 1997-2012) and other millennials – and sometimes generations older than them. This can cause some interesting leadership dynamics.
The millennial leader needs to be skilled at leadership development both up and down to be effective.
Millennial in the Middle – Leading Up
Leadership is influence, and a millennial leader has their work cut out for them trying to influence positively teammates and leaders from generations older than them. While a baby boomer leader may be partial to a more authoritative approach to leading, a millennial will desire more collaboration and want to have their voice heard. This could cause some tension. In this situation, you would coach your millennial leader not to “fix” their boss or teammate but instead find ways to add value. Coach them to look for opportunities to lighten the person’s load and provide insights that prove helpful to their mission.
Another characteristic of a baby boomer or Gen X leader is their drive for success, whereas a millennial leader may be driven more by finding significance. The younger generations are looking for purpose and making a difference in what they do, while the older generations are driven by business success and financial security. In this situation, you would coach your millennial leader to fully understand the organization’s mission, vision, and core values and then align their leadership development goals and values with those of the organization.
The millennial leader could add value to their boss, team, and organization by helping link what the organization stands for and how not only to be the best IN the world (success), but also to be the best FOR the world (significance).
Millennial leaders could also focus more on work/life balance than their older teammates or leaders. In this situation, you would coach the millennial leader to help others focus more on outcomes and results rather than hours worked. In other words, have them to move from activity to productivity.
Millennial in the Middle – Leading Down
The millennial leader in today’s world may find themselves with a team of other millennials or Generation Z members. This should be less complicated because there are more similarities than differences between these groups.
Gen Z is a generation influenced by a volatile economy, smartphones, terrorism, and uncertainty. They value individual expression, diversity, multi-tasking, and technology. The biggest mistake one can make leading a Gen Z teammate is to try to be an authority figure in their lives. The internet is their primary authority.
When a Gen Z teammate wants to have a voice in the organization, coach your millennial leader to include them in planning. When they express a need for purpose, help them find their “why” and connect it to the organization’s purpose. When they want to ensure work/life balance, coach them to define how, when, and where they work. Focus on outcomes, not activity.
All leaders, regardless of generation, benefit from personal growth and developing more empathetic and effective communication styles. No one responds well to being told what to do. People want to be inspired and empowered. When coaching your millennial to lead like that, you will see that they experience a more engaged and motivated team.
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About Perry Holley
Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with Maxwell Leadership, as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.