Millennials in Leadership

If you run a high-performance organisation, you’re likely to employ ambitious, achievement-driven millennials who are eager to grow and learn. Which means that at some point, a relatively young person might end up managing someone 20 or more years their senior, or with many years of experience under their belts. It’s hard enough to be a new leader without the challenge of having to deal with the discomfort of managing someone you respect and admire.

The generation gaps in the workplace have been much examined, with the idea that millennials have different values than their older counterparts often disproven. Instead, the differences are frequently about how to communicate and who deserves respect: millennials want their older counterparts to respect their talent, skill and youthful approach, while older workers want millennials to respect their experience, wisdom and loyalty.

The reality is that sometimes older workers will have to report to younger managers. And while millennials tend to lead much the way they prefer to be led, it’s also important for them to understand how to empower and lead the older members of their teams.

Here are some things for new young managers to keep in mind.

Family and flexibility: Studies have shown that millennials value family just as much as older workers do. The big difference is that older workers are more likely to have more family responsibilities. So while young workers are known to value flexibility in where and when they work, for older workers, flexibility comes from having a set schedule and separation of home and work life. This means older team members will probably prefer regular team huddles in the office to meeting up after work for happy hour.

Communication and transparency: Early on, millennials stepping into their first position of leadership will likely go one of two directions: too deferential or too dismissive of the input of older team members. It can be difficult to find a balance between showing respect for experience without appearing to lack confidence. The key is to understand that it’s ok to ask questions, especially when entering a new leadership role. Listening, asking questions, and communicating with clarity are great ways for millennial managers to gain the respect of older members of their team.

Recognition and respect: Both millennials and older workers value recognition, but want it for different things. For instance, millennial workers are likely to desire recognition for their performance on the job. And since they come up against so many systems that devalue youth in favor of experience, they are probably resistant to the idea of recognising the experience of others. Just as communication breeds respect, so too does recognising and showing that they value the experience and input of older staff.

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