Stop it, Simon Sinek
In the last two weeks my Facebook feed has filled with videos, opinions, angry rants and aggressive comments on what are ‘Millennials’ like really and why oh why are they so hard to manage. Some commonly used adjectives to describe folks born after 1984: thin skinned, narcissistic, entitled, lazy, challenging, unfocused, low self esteem—and my favourite, the patronizing ‘special’.
You can buy 323 books on Amazon on the topic of ‘Millennials’ (one called, and I’m not kidding, The Dumbest Generation). There are workshops, conferences and talk show segments dedicated to the subject. The topic of ‘Millennials’ has appeared on the cover of Time, Forbes, McLeans, Ad Week, and New York Magazine. ‘Experts’ are making millions giving advice to stressed marketers looking for ways to sell to this mysterious generation. Even more money is made teaching managers how to lead, and mentor their ‘challenging’ new employees.
Here is the problem:
There is no such thing as a millennial.
There is also no such thing as a Boomer, or a Gen Xer.
This whole thing is bullshit. Smoke and mirrors. Absolute nonsense.
You made it up— or more specifically, authors William Strauss and Neil Howe made it up. In 1987 these two dudes got together and decided to get rich. And get rich they did, selling two books on the subject of millennials, and taking their new ‘generation’ all the way to the bank.
Waxing poetic about how (approximately) 75.4 million young people are lazy, depressed, narcissistic etc. is negligent, and dangerous.
Come on, you really think this is dangerous?
Yes. If you tell an exhausted, in debt, young person that they’re entitled and useless enough times, they’ll believe you. Especially when you’re inspiring New York Time bestselling author and TED speaker Simon Sinek.
Then why is managing young people so hard?
I’m right there with you, it is so hard. But here is the thing: Managing people is really hard. Humans are complex, ever changing and each one operates within their own reality. The more unlike you they are, the more mysterious and challenging they become. Older managers faced with young employees who have had radically different experiences and lives then they have, are rightfully challenged. It’s much easier to say that this generation as a whole (that’s everyone born this year, up to 34 years old) is hard to manage, than to learn, listen and adapt management and mentorship styles to the complexities of humans.
I’ve spent the last 2.5 years building an Ambassador program (with the help of a wonderful team, of course) that is over 5,000 ‘millennial’ college students in 5 countries strong. I’ve managed ‘millennials’ at two startups built and staffed entirely by ‘millennials’. And it was hard. It was really fucking hard. But I’d put money on the fact that it wasn’t harder than it would be with any generation of people.
What do we do next?
Stop talking shit about 74.5 million people. We all weren’t given participation ribbons. We (young people?) come with a multitude of different backgrounds, struggles and experiences. We deserve the chance to prove our worth without wading through made up generational stereotypes and cognitive bias. Get a refund for your tickets to next ‘millennial’ conference, it can’t help you.
We are not Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials— we are humans, complex, imperfect, ever changing, and doing our best.
Leaders with empathy, genuine curiosity about people, open minds, and a diehard work ethic will be the ones to succeed in mobilizing young people to achieve incredible things — not the ones who have already given up.