Linda St. John - "It’s Not all Fun and Games: Millennial Leaders are Just Like Us, But Different in Positive Ways"

September 26, 2017 1:41 PM | Anonymous

Millennials have gotten a very bad rap in the workplace.

But are they really all that different from previous generations of young people? Did GenXers have different workplace norms or work aspirations? What about the Boomers?

Those of us in the business of hiring and retaining talented Millennials need to consider whether their behavior is a function of the decade in which they were born, or simply part of a normal life stage. Either way, employers can’t simply ride it out.

In the coming years, every leadership role will be filled by a member of this generation. Their influence will be felt for decades. It’s incumbent on us to understand this new generation of leaders and find out how to recruit and retain them.

A 2017 study conducted by The Conference Board and DDI, is one of the first to compare Millennial leaders to those in older generations. They examined 2,800 leaders in 14 companies and determined Millennial leaders are not distinctly different from those of earlier generations, and in fact, the results look promising!

Here are 3 debunked “Millennial Myths”:

Myth #1: No loyalty and job-hoppers

Reality: Millennial leaders are incredibly loyal. Nearly 44% plan to stay with their current company for 15+ years (vs. 20% from other generations). 14% plan to stay 2-4 years. In my experience, Millennial leaders are just as — or even more — loyal and engaged as older leaders. Culture is key. They will leave if you are following an established playbook where they are not valued.

Myth #2: Millennial leaders learn differently

Reality: Developmental assignments are still most effective. Coaching from the Manager, Internal Coaches and Mentors are a strong second. The surprising finding is that formal leadership development workshops, including classroom training, continue to be viewed as effective for all generations.

This finding makes sense: effective employee development is comprised of three components: experience, exposure and education; sometimes you can use one effectively and other times you need all three. Leadership development is still effective for all generations when all three aspects are used.

Myth #3: Workplace must be open and fun

Reality: Flexibility and mentoring by senior leaders is more highly regarded by Millennial leaders than other workforce perks. Open space and low hierarchy are less important. Of course, most people enjoy having fun at work, but the Millennial leaders I know are serious about work and want the ability to get the job done in the most efficient way possible. That doesn’t seem any different from Boomer or GenX leaders.

So, no, Millennials aren’t overly entitled and they’re not lazy. They’re well-educated, flexible, and ambitious.

Here are tips to best develop this generation of leaders:

1. Take time to understand your Millennial workforce and move away from traditional best practices.

2. Create forums for collaboration and listening. Millennials can see what needs to be improved. Take them seriously and listen. Include them in generating and implementing solutions.

3. Understand that as Millennial leaders age and are in the workforce longer, they are likely to develop views and attitudes about themselves and the world that more closely align with those of previous generations.

Linda St. John is Founder and Principal of LSJ Leadership Coaching, a Worcester, MA firm that specializes in employee retention in health care Linda’s work focuses on developing mentoring programs, redesigning organizational functions and, when necessary, removing organizational “deadwood,” all with a focus on helping client companies hire and keep the right people.


Linda is co-lead of the Central Mass. ATD Leadership Special Interest Group (SIG). Join the Leadership SIG on October 5 (7:30-9 am, Central One Federal Credit Union, Shrewsbury) for a presentation and discussion on humanizing virtual teams.


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