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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Terranova

How to Speak Millennial: A Gen X Guide to Leading a Younger Generation


GIPH from Girls

The Millennial Generation (1981-1996) is the currently the largest generation in the American workforce, with over 56 million occupying almost 40% of available jobs in 2023. Millennials bring a unique set of values, aspirations and work styles to organizational life that sets them apart from their generational predecessors. They work differently, and leading them effectively requires a nuanced approach that acknowledges their distinct characteristics while aligning with more traditional organizational objectives established by previous generations. This can be quite a daunting task for “Boomer” and Gen X leaders who are now responsible for leading, developing and mentoring Millennials, yet were trained to do so in a corporate world that operated under a different set of values and norms.   


In this article, we explore the generational influences that impact how Millennials see the world and their place in it, and learn actionable strategies to effectively lead Millennials while preserving some of the working traditional values upon which our organizations are built. At the end of the day, it is possible to create conditions for Millennials to thrive while also imparting some of the wisdom from the Gen X experience.

 


Understanding the Millennial Mindset

Understanding Millennials means understanding the world in which they were raised, and just how different their experiences are from previous generations. While Boomers and Gen X were taught to put their heads down, put in the time and work harder than everyone else to achieve incremental success, Millennials have a different formula for success based on their unique early childhood experiences that prioritizes fulfillment over financial gain, and seeking roles that align with their personal values contribute to a greater societal good.

 

👉🏻 Purpose and Meaning

As witnesses to more than one economic collapse, Millennials have grown somewhat disillusioned by the American Dream. They believe less in the idea that hard work yields unlimited success, so they’ve learned to seek meaningful work that aligns with their values and allows them to make a positive impact on society. They are driven by a sense of purpose and are more likely to be engaged in roles that contribute to a larger cause.

 

👉🏻 Work-Life Balance

Unlike previous generations who were taught to put in the hours to achieve success regardless of the consequences to mental and physical wellbeing, millennials saw the mistakes their parents made killing themselves for work. Instead of running themselves into the ground, they learned to prioritize work-life balance and seek flexibility in their work arrangements. They value opportunities for personal growth, leisure, and quality time with family and friends.

 

👉🏻 Collaboration and Inclusion

As children that were highly scheduled in team sports and group activities, Millennials learned to thrive in collaborative environments where they can contribute their ideas and perspectives. They value diversity and inclusion and seek workplaces that foster a sense of belonging and respect for individual differences. They want their voices to be heard and to have opportunities to create meaningful impact in the organizations they serve. 

 

👉🏻 Technology and Innovation

Having grown up in the digital age, millennials are tech-savvy and embrace innovation. They expect access to cutting-edge technology and tools that enhance productivity and facilitate collaboration. At the end of the day, they believe in working smarter, not harder, and living up to their digital potential when they have access to the tech that makes working life as efficient and productive as possible. 

 

👉🏻 Feedback and Recognition

As the generation that was coached in their youth more than any other in history, Millennials were conditioned to value regular feedback and public recognition for their contributions. They appreciate constructive criticism that helps them grow professionally and seek acknowledgment for their achievements and accomplishments.

 


Strategies For Effective Millennial Leadership

If we accept that Millennials were shaped by a unique blend of technological advancement, economic shifts, and evolving societal norms that seem foreign to previous generations, we must also recognize that these experiences significantly influence their workplace expectations. While it’s tempting to dismiss their distinct values, aspirations and work styles as idealistic and unrealistic in today’s working world, the talented leaders among us look for the opportunities Millennials create to embrace an adaptive approach to leadership. The question is how to balance creating conditions for Millennials to thrive while respecting the values of previous generations that still comprise 47% of the American workforce. Here’s a few good places to start.

 

Embrace Purpose-Driven Leadership - Clearly articulate the organization's mission, vision, and values to align with millennials' desire for purpose and meaning. Connect individual roles and responsibilities to the broader organizational goals, emphasizing the impact of their work on society and the community.


Foster a Culture of Flexibility and Work-Life Balance - Offer flexible work arrangements such as remote work options, flexible hours, and compressed workweeks to accommodate millennials' preferences for work-life balance. Encourage employees to prioritize self-care and well-being, promoting a culture that values health and personal fulfillment.


Cultivate Inclusive and Collaborative Work Environments - Foster a culture of inclusivity and diversity by promoting open dialogue, respect for different perspectives, and a sense of belonging for all employees. Provide opportunities for cross-functional collaboration and teamwork, leveraging millennials' collaborative nature and creativity to drive innovation.


Leverage Technology for Productivity and Engagement - Invest in state-of-the-art technology and digital tools to enhance communication, collaboration, and productivity in the workplace. Encourage continuous learning and skill development through online platforms, webinars, and virtual training programs to keep pace with technological advancements.


Provide Ongoing Feedback and Recognition - Implement regular feedback mechanisms such as performance reviews, one-on-one meetings, and peer evaluations to provide millennials with timely feedback on their work. Recognize and celebrate achievements and milestones, whether big or small, to foster a culture of appreciation and motivation among employees.

 

Although we like to tease Millennials for being the “everyone gets a trophy” generation, they were the first to cope with the impacts of digital technology, repeated bouts of economic instability, and a country that failed to deliver on the promise that hard work yields to success. They embraced the philosophy that it’s OK to work smarter instead of harder, and learned to prioritize their own growth and development and work-life balance over the impositions corporate life was prepared to impose on their wellbeing. While they may need more feedback, recognition and promotions than older generations were prepared to offer, they maintain worthy goals of creating an inclusive and purpose-driven approach to the way we do business in this country.


Effective leadership of the Millennial generation requires a deep understanding of millennial values and preferences, coupled with intentional efforts to support them in creating inclusive, purpose-driven workplaces. By embracing Millennial values like purpose, flexibility, collaboration, technology, and recognition, leaders can inspire and empower millennials to reach their full potential, driving organizational success in the process. As we navigate the evolving landscape of work and leadership, let us embrace the values of the millennial generation and lead with purpose, empathy, and innovation. 

 



Headshot of Danielle Terranova

Danielle Terranova is the voice behind Leadership Lessons with Danielle.

She has been an executive coach since 2015 and owner of Terranova Consulting, LLC since 2019.

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