The Millennial Dilemma: Is the future of leadership in good hands?

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Hey there, and welcome to Episode 51 of the No Bullsh!t Leadership Podcast. This week's episode, The Millennial Dilemma: Is the future of leadership in good hands? Last week marked International Youth Day, so it's timely for me to release this episode on leading Millennials and Millennials leading. I was also recently quoted in an article that Adam Courtenay penned for The CEO magazine about the future of leadership when Millennials take the baton from the previous generation. And of course, we'll leave a link to this article in the show notes.

Millennials get a bad rap for a lot of things, but I've seen them in action over the last few years and although I am only operating on a relatively small sample size, I have to say that Millennials have some distinct advantages. Over both Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. But with all types of people, you need to lead them to bring out the best, whatever that means for them.

Surprisingly, I found that leading Millennials is no different to leading other types of people. The problem is that if you're a poor leader, you'll just get away with a lot less when Millennials are involved. First, we're going to start with talking about what's different about Millennials. We'll move on to what advantages this might bring to an organisation. We'll try and work out what we learned from trying to lead both Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Then finish with how do we lead Millennials now and how do we prepare them to lead in the future? Let's get into it.

You may have come across this quote that Adam sites in his article, and it goes like this. "What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders and disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They ride in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?" Of course for those of you who know, this quote was attributed to the Greek philosopher Plato in about 400 BC. Clearly some things never change. It's always the case that the current generation that has the power looks on the future generation with some level of disrespect and dismay. What's different about Millennials?

Well, you hear all sorts of adjectives to describe them: entitled, spoiled, lacking resilience, over-indulged, not brought up with a sense of reality. Some of these may be true, but of course the first question that comes into my mind is, whose fault is that? These people did not raise themselves. If they are over-indulged and over-protected, then we, their parents, did this from the get go.

For example, in Australia, our schooling system has shifted to become more socialist, I guess for want of a better expression, in its focus. The concept of equality in education is critical and I'm a massive supporter of equality and opportunity in education for everyone. This is something that Australia does pretty well. However, I'm also alive to the potential for this to drift into the propensity to normalise any differences in talent and capability. This has the less desirable effect of bringing high-performers back to the lowest common denominator, rather than stretching each child to the highest level of performance and achievement for their individual capability. And I guess on a lighter note, if I have to hear one more story of a children's sporting competition where they don't keep score because it's all about participation, I will seriously lose the will to live.

One of the interesting things about Millennials is that, for whatever reason, they value belonging more than they value leadership. They talk about things amongst themselves that Boomers and Gen Xerss never would have. For example, one of the leaders in our current Leadership Beyond the Theory cohort told me the other day that in his fast growth tech business, the Millennials are often interacting on their closed chat groups, and there is virtually nothing that they won't discuss. Now, this includes salary and bonus details, which in the past would never have been exposed that way in the general discourse between employees. This can create challenges for leaders, especially lazy leaders, who aren't diligent around this stuff or take the path of least resistance in their approach to issues, while expecting to be protected plus some sort of secrecy or confidentiality

Now, despite all the bad press that Millennials receive, we can't talk about the differences without talking about what's actually better, and there are heaps of these things. Most of you know I'm in business with my Millennial daughter, Emma, and the things I've learned from her in the last year are staggering. Let's rack them off.

She will have a crack at anything. Nothing is too hard for her and nothing is too daunting. I had a bunch of money in our first year budget for creating our website, and Emma just said to me straight out "Dad, we're not spending that." I said, "Well, if you've got a better idea for creating website, it's all yours." Now having never done that before, she set to work out what the best tools were for designing and building websites. She looked at WordPress, she looked Squarespace, she learned how to use Canva, and taught herself using YouTube videos, how to actually get this done.

Now if you go onto our website, you'll probably agree with me that it's pretty damn good and it's as good as we'll need any time soon. She did that just because she had the initiative and she didn't have a fear of failure, she just wanted to have a crack to get it done, because that saved us a fortune.

Her passion for the business, fueled by our purpose to improve the quality of leaders globally, is even more intense than mine. Emma is highly adaptable, agile, and resilient to change. She has the occasional blow up, but just as quickly refocuses and is back on track, even more determined than ever.

Millennials have a much greater sense of social conscience and community. Is this idealistic? Well, sure, but it's also massively beneficial. For example, Emma and her friends would not even consider driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They'll leave that to the Boomers and Gen Xers. Research also shows that Millennials have greater mobility in terms of both the organisations they work for and the locations they work in.

Em here. We love that so many of you are taking the gold from this free podcast and implementing it into your leadership toolkit. However, if you're looking to lift the capability, confidence, and performance of your organisation, we offer a range of opportunities to work with Marty directly. For executive teams, we run a Leadership Development Intensive, a highly practical and direct two month intervention based upon a targeted program of foundational education and face to face action learning sessions with Marty. His keynotes are always incredibly impactful at leadership conferences or team building days, and are perfect for that hit of 'No Bullsh!t Leadership' tailored specifically to your organisation's context. He also takes on a very small number of one on one mentoring clients each quarter, so if you'd like to know more about working with Marty, just shoot me an email emma@yourceomentor.com.

So, what advantages might this bring to organisations? Many of us are struggling to come to terms with the rapid nature of change in society and in business. The rise of populism is fueled by a desire to return to the good old days. "Can I please just have my well-paid, predictable, stable, low valued job back?" But those days are gone. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube when it comes to issues like globalisation of economies and trade, the inevitable march of technological progress, and the changing demographic trends of ageing populations in developed countries. I have seen very smart people unable to cope with these changes just in the last 10 years, and you know what? It's going to get worse before it gets better. I was 45 years old when the iPhone was released. Now, I'm pretty good with technology, but it's not my natural state and there's no way I can ever be as tech savvy as Emma is.

So how does the Millennial mindset change things for the better? Well for a start, they can cope with disruptive change and take it in their stride. Disappearing jobs in low value work as they're replaced by robots will be seen as opportunities for higher value and more rewarding work by Millennials. This is quite different to the sky is falling level of panic we're seeing and being exhibited by workers being displaced after a long, stable, comfortable working life. Don't get me wrong, I'm not under playing the devastating impact of some of these changes and the need for us to collectively find solutions as we speed towards an uncertain future. But leading through this is going to take a Millennial mindset and talent to get right, and I for one am happy to let them have the reins.

What did we learn from the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers? Well, the most fundamental difference is that they were much more likely to suffer a bad boss silently. In my parent's generation, it was pretty simple. You get a job, you work hard, you forge a career with one or maybe two companies at the most. This has changed radically in not too many years. According to one Career Builder survey, 25% of young people will have worked in five different jobs by the age of 35. Given their increased mobility, Millennials are much less likely to tolerate poor leadership, and this is really good for all involved. Companies are less likely to be stuck with unmotivated and recalcitrant employees. Workers are less likely to stick it out in a situation that isn't right for them. Workforce flexibility is a massive global trend, so we need to get used to it.

What else did we learn from Baby boomers and Gen Xers? Well, command and control used to work to some extent at least, but now it can't, not even a little bit. When we look at the trends on the need for more flexible and adaptable workforces, lack of physical geographical proximity to the people who are doing the work. Inputs are becoming much less important or relevant than outputs are, so you can't just sit and watch someone sitting at their desk doing work and counting the hours that they're there applying themselves to the job. You've got to actually measure what comes out the back end. The trend of change being a constant, and change resilience, therefore is a must. Ambiguity is ever increasing and we're living longer, even though we probably not living any better. Towing the line and following a very structured order, hoping for protection from the government, used to be an acceptable life strategy. This is clearly no longer the case in most advanced economies. Adapting through this change may not be best-led by the very people who are driven by fear of the impending changes.

How do we need to lead Millennials now and how do we prepare them to lead in the future? Here's the key point. The things that constitute great leadership have not changed, and they won't. What worked best for Baby boomers and Gen X is will also work best for future generations. As I said, Millennials are less likely to accept the poor leadership that many of us just thought came with the territory. Organisations that can develop better leadership and culture will attract the best talent, because the talent is prepared to move. But people are still people, and thousands of years of DNA don't all of a sudden become radically different. But for mine, I'll take a Millennial workforce every day and twice on Sundays over an intractable, change-resistant, militant industrial workforce.

The elements of great leadership that we will need to emphasise in the future are things like this: communicating the purpose and vision. How do you think Simon Sinek became the voice of a generation? He simply asked the question, "Why?" Because this will become more important for Millennials even than remuneration. Another thing that's really important is sitting up clear paths for progression and advancement, so providing excellent feedback around this, challenging, coaching, and confronting people, managing the talent you've got. See, Millennials are okay with the outcome as long as they understand what they're being judged on, much like any other person. If you rate people on value delivered and not the activity they undertake, then that's going to be a winner for everyone. You need to learn how to navigate an ambiguous environment with grace under pressure. So in other words, having the resilience to live in a high change, highly complex, highly ambiguous environment without cracking. And of course, driving a strong framework of accountability and empowerment to deliver execution excellence. These things are as true today as they will be tomorrow.

But most of all, in terms of managing Millennials, you've got to stop pandering to them. Remember, respect before popularity, that's what it's all about. Episode one of No Bullsh!t Leadership. You're all here to get the job done. It's called work for a reason. So don't try to be BFFs with your Millennials or any other employee, and don't get sucked into that ping pong table and free kale salad culture in an attempt to placate your Millennial employees. Just give it to them straight. Expect a high level of performance, stretch them and keep them honest, but make what they do meaningful. They will tire of mindless work long before the preceding generations did.

Given that we now have a responsibility to teach Millennials how to lead, how should we go about this? Well, I think they're probably starting in a better place than we did, given the environment we're facing into now. They will handle the issues that we find around purpose and ambiguity almost effortlessly for the most part. The biggest issue, may be their communication style, because this has really changed over time. Now, my parents thought the polite response to most things was to send a thank you letter to someone, whereas my generation preferred to use the phone. It was more personal and it was less formal. But Millennials prefer to communicate via text and social media. They all need to learn how to communicate in many different forms, just as we do, not just Slack and Snapchat, if they're going to be able to lead older generation workers, of whom there will be many.

But they also need to learn how to handle conflict, because this is not something that's done well face to face these days. They need to learn how to build their resilience as leaders, how to compete vigorously in competitive markets. Because yes, life, business, and the world is competitive. They need to work out how to turn their social conscience into commercial outcomes, and basically how to get shit done through superior execution with an evermore diverse workforce. Most importantly, the critical lesson that strong leaders build great organisations is the gift that we need to give the next generation of leaders coming through.

Alright, so that brings us to the end of Episode 51. thank you so much for joining us and remember at Your CEO Mentor, our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally. So if you're enjoying this podcast, please share it with the leaders in your network because this is how we improve the world of work. I'm particularly looking forward to next week's episode, behind the scenes of No Bullsh!t Leadership, because with release of episode 52, the No Bullsh!t Leadership Podcast turns one. I hope you can join me for a retrospective look back over your first year. 

Until then I know you'll take every opportunity you can to be a No Bullsh!t Leader.