Lead With Millennials in Mind

The fake news about this Millennial generation is brutal. It paints all of them—all 83 million—as narcissistic, entitled, lazy, self-absorbed and disloyal. The list of negative descriptors seems to expand on a daily basis. So what's the real news about Millennials?

Our company conducted its own study, asking leaders about the frustrations they experience in working with this generation. With over 300 responding, nearly 100 percent of them were enthused about the potential of tapping into the brilliance of this generation. Many expressed concerns, with 60 percent admitting that they struggle to work with Millennials. Leaders indicated three key areas in which they could use help when it comes to coaching, mentoring and discipling their emerging leaders: character, confidence and collaboration.

The most frequent complaints noted in the survey were:

Lack of accountability and determination. The ensuing lack of resiliency means problems are often unresolved and clients are not served well.

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Low workplace engagement, resulting in high turnover rates, the loss of valuable employee talent and higher operational costs.

A know-it-all attitude, which reduces collaboration. This behavior shuts down team communication, squelching creativity and innovation.

As a business growth specialist, a mother of three Millennials and a follower of Jesus Christ, I choose to believe there is hope for our emerging leaders.

In researching for my book Millennials Matter, I asked a group of Millennials to critique the manuscript. One reviewer commented, "Just because someone is born in a certain year does not automatically mean that they're lazy."

Not all Millennials are the same. Each is fearfully and wonderfully made, with a unique wiring imprinted on their DNA (Ps. 139:14). If we believe this about ourselves, we must believe it about them too.

We must not allow fake news to distract or blind us to the truth about this generation. The real news is that we have an incredible opportunity to coach, mentor and disciple this generation.

Experienced leaders have a God-given stewardship responsibility. We are invited to not only nurture the next generation's understanding of their calling of what a follower of Jesus can do for the kingdom of God in the broader marketplace, but also to help build their skills.

King David reminds us that part of our legacy is rooted in mentoring, guiding and discipling the emerging leaders in our sphere of influence. "Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come" (Ps. 71:18, NIV).

To have kingdom influence during this unprecedented time in history, we need to follow the example of King David, declaring God's awesome power to the next generation. It's an all-hands-on-deck initiative that requires the wisdom of seasoned leadership plus the fresh, innovative insights of the new generation. We need to work together with the next generation to tackle today's problems.

Henry T. Blackaby inspires me when he says in Spiritual Leadership, "Great leaders don't make excuses. They make things better. They are not unrealistic or blind to the difficulties they face. They simply are not discouraged by them. They maintain a positive attitude. Great leaders don't blame their people for not being where they ought to be; they take their people from where they are to where they need to be."

Some young leaders I mentor are also facing character, confidence and collaboration challenges. Here are three examples along with some how-to's to equip you as you look beyond stereotypes to coach, mentor and disciple Millennials.

Christopher's Character Challenge

Millennials are entering a global economy filled with threats and opportunities beyond the imagination of any previous generation. During a coaching conversation with an emerging leader named Christopher, he told me, "Experienced leaders criticize us and even say we lack solid character. Do they even realize how confusing it is for us to navigate the ethical challenges that are now part of our new normal? Robotics, artificial intelligence, quantum mechanics, genetic engineering—please give us some bedrock principles to help us make good decisions!"

In an interview for Millennials Matter, Phyllis Hennecy Henry, president of Lead Like Jesus, put it this way: "Character is very important to Millennials. They see broken families, corrupt governments, impoverished nations and acts of terror. These are just the symptoms of a much deeper issue. They know that our world is in desperate need of good leaders."

Christopher's heart-cry reminded me of the ancient wisdom of the seven virtues. Character development is a prerequisite for long-term, sustainable influence in a world that's changing at lightning speed.

In my coaching and mentoring, I have found the following three strategies helpful in building strong, moral character:

Invest time in building relationships that are trusting, transparent and genuine. A 2016 Gallup News Report, "How Millennials Want to Work and Live," revealed that when surveyed, 79 percent want a coach or a mentor, not a boss. Casual coffee meetings often spur better, deeper conversation about character challenges than a formal meeting that has been looming on the calendar for weeks.

Boost accountability awareness. Accountability means having the emotional maturity and internal backbone to take responsibility for your own actions and choices and not shift blame to external factors. Big words! I challenged Christopher to start taking ownership and become intentional in banishing excuse making from his life. Now, when he feels backed into a corner, instead of blaming someone or something, he asks himself, "What might I do differently to get the desired result?" It takes tremendous courage to ask oneself this question. It takes character.

Share the lessons you learned when you failed—how each failure was a stepping stone to success, strengthening your moral fiber. The same Gallup News Report stated that 91 percent of Millennials aspire to leadership, so they are hungry to learn lessons from your journey as long as you are authentic and invite a two-way conversation. Real-life stories bolster their determination and resilience.

How might you coach and mentor up-and-coming leaders to build a center of courageous character strength? When you do, you provide a firm footing so they can have a positive kingdom influence.

Sarah's Confidence Challenge

One evening, a distraught Sarah called me. She applied for a promotion but didn't get it. She wasn't calling to complain about her boss being unfair. No, she wanted help with her resume so she could look for another job. Her confidence was shattered, and she was convinced that she had no chance of advancing in her current role.

Many people accuse Millennials of being overconfident. Over 50 percent of senior leaders in our survey indicated that they get frustrated with Millennials' know-it-all stance. But is this confidence based on reality? Or is it an external facade, based on their ability to quickly get an answer to all their questions from Google or YouTube? What happens when they hit a real-world obstacle and these technology resources don't offer a list of steps to magically solve their problems?

Jeff Pelletier, founder of Life's Core Purpose (lifescorepurpose.com), reminds us in Millennials Matter that, as experienced leaders, we need to look deeper than the superficial confidence we see in some Millennials to uncover where they need guidance. "Many experienced leaders struggle to look beyond the prejudiced portrayal of Millennials. When we predetermine what we believe about someone, we create blind spots."

That's why we need to look deeper—to confront our own blind spots. Scripture tells us we are God's workmanship. How can we help the Sarahs of this generation to understand their identity from that perspective?

We can create an alignment of vision, mission and values. Sarah falls into the group of employees who are disengaged at work. According to Gallup's 2017 "State of the Global Workplace" report, 85 percent of employees feel that way. I worked with Sarah to create alignment between her organization's vision, mission and values and her own dreams and goals.

We can also guide our next-generation leaders to discover and align core competence with core passion. Sarah walked through the Life's Core Purpose process. It invited her to reflect on these two questions:

"Is there something I am personally great at all the time at a core level?"

"Is there something I care deeply about all the time at a core level?"

We focused on building strategies to transform her unique set of competencies and passions into strengths that will solve real-world challenges.

Sarah is not looking for another job. She feels confident that she is growing professionally, creating a win-win scenario for herself and her organization, even if she doesn't get the promotion right now. What might you do to strengthen the confidence of the Gen Y leader in your life?

Robert's Collaboration Challenge

Many believe Millennials are expert collaborators. After all, they've been working in teams since first grade. They have digital technology at their fingertips. They collaborate on a global scale in a matter of seconds.

But, as I learned in working with Robert, Millennial leaders need more than social media skills to be true collaborators. Robert found it easy to collaborate with people who had similar values, perceptions and ideas. However, the moment he encountered face-to-face conflict, he become uncomfortable.

What made my job easier was that Robert was already aware of his collaboration challenge and was asking for my help. He wanted to move beyond his social media and technology acumen and to learn how to improve his ability to handle face-to-face conflict or chaotic conversations.

There are two skills we can model to help our emerging leader improve their collaboration quotient:

Ask insightful questions. Many of us have a natural propensity to talk when we are stressed or under emotional pressure. We talk when the more beneficial approach is to value the other person, be curious about their thought process and ask insightful questions. Robert and I worked together on developing communication strategies where he could maintain rapport with the other person, even in difficult conversations, while asking questions that aim to dig deeper and uncover the heart of the issue.

Listen intently without judging. (Don't jump to conclusions either.) People know when we're not listening closely and valuing them. Our response will give us away, and our body language and facial expressions help tell the story. Our own problems keep us preoccupied and not concentrating on what the other person is saying. Robert and I established ground rules, including keeping all technology switched off and out of sight and not interrupting when the other person is talking.

Collaboration, especially in high-conflict situations, is a developed skill for all leaders. We can learn much from Jesus' example. Jesus was a master at valuing each person, asking questions and listening intently without judging. What work might you do to strengthen your emerging leader collaboration skills?

Millennials Need Mentors

During the many hours I've talked with family and friends, trusted mentors and colleagues, one realization has stood out: Millennials need experienced leaders. This task, mentoring the next generation of leaders, is a test of our generation.

"For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:10, NIV).

How might you help the Gen Y leader in your sphere of influence to understand what they can do for the kingdom of God in the broader marketplace? Forget about the fake news. Find your own reality about the Millennial in your life. Accept the challenge to shatter stereotypes. You'll shatter them for yourself, and you'll shatter them for others who are watching. Use your wisdom and experience to develop the unique gifts and talents your Millennial leader brings to the marketplace. You can realize both your legacy and their dreams, building God's kingdom together.

Danita Bye is a keynote speaker, business consultant and best-selling author. Her latest book, Millennials Matter: Proven Strategies for Building Your Next-Gen Leader, equips CEOs to develop the next generation into high-capacity leaders.

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