Want to be an effective Millennial leader? Bust these four stereotypes

At a recent bachelorette party for a dear childhood friend, I found myself surrounded by women that, all partying aside, could have been incredibly intimidating. I – a Millennial Generational Expert by day and Harry Potter enthusiast/wannabe chef by night – drank tea, played board games and talked about work aspirations with 5 brilliant women. They met Freshman year at MIT and are now either a) completing their PhD, b) finishing their MBAs from Harvard/Sloane, or c) prepping to move across the nation or globe to work at highly esteemed organizations like SpaceX. Yes, that SpaceX. Needless to say, I was humbled. Luckily, I had the nerd wherewithal to ask if I could research them and they asked me to do the same.

My first question: “So, do you all hate being called Millennials?”

They all sheepishly hung their heads and nodded or murmured an, “Umm… yes.” They’re not alone – Pew Research Center found that Millennials (born 1980-1995) hate their generational label more than any Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) and Generation Xers (born 1965-1979).

Their first question: “How do we become effective leaders or managers when we’re in industries dominated by other gender and other generations?”

My answer: Don’t embody any of the Millennial stereotypes.

Millennials have an uphill battle. We’re labeled as entitled, lazy, narcissistic, impatient, needy, me-me-me, disloyal, overly sensitive, unprofessional, etc. As we approach leadership and management at an unprecedented age, it’s up to us to be self-aware like the Team Bride and work effectively across generations. So, which stereotypes are most important to bust in order to become an effective leader?

Stereotype #1: Millennials are entitled

Are we the first generation to earn this stereotype? No. Currently, we’re earning our entitled stripes because we appear disloyal to organizations and we expect progression, promotion, responsibility and autonomy too quickly. While we can list the reasons that Millennials bounce around in organizations, acknowledge that you may be going into a team and managing people who take pride in sticking with an organization for 10+ years.

What can you do?

  • Know your place. We’re the first generation to enter a work environment that collectively rewards merit over seniority. For our Boomer parents, it was uncommon to enter work and get promoted in 3 years to a management position. They worked long hours, never complained and and still aren’t slowing down. Express gratitude when appropriate, acknowledge when you may appear impatient or over-eager and present change as evolution, not revolution.

  • Honor the history to inform the present. It’s okay to not know everything as a leader (especially as a young leader) so don’t assume that you need to. If a challenge arises, chances are a Boomer or Xer has seen it before. Ask them for input and advice, truly listen and then act.

Stereotype #2: Millennials need their hands held; they have to be told how to do everything

Millennials grew up being told “two heads are better than one” and, in every classroom featured a “There is no I in team” poster. For us, collaboration at every step of the was crucial. We learned the power of constant check-ins from our teachers in school and were gifted technological tools to make it happen. While we may want 3 check-ins on a project to ensure success, Gen Xers may be wondering why check-ins are needed if work is chugging along well without them. Xers were told “If you want something done right, do it yourself” and typically value independent work and feedback only when absolutely necessary. Check-ins can be annoying and their independence can be off-putting.

What to do?

  • Recognize how your collaborative mindset manifests. Set expectations for check-ins with those you are managing and those who manage you. Get comfortable not knowing all the details – it’s a great thing to free up your time and Gen Xers especially need the freedom to work independently.

  • Be confident in your direction. Other generations did not have leaders or mangers helping them plan the next step of their careers. A Leadership Development Plan was not the standard. Take charge, know you’re going to make mistakes and forge forward.

Stereotype #3: Millennials are lazy

Every generation worked really hard to move up in their careers – usually this equated to long hours, eating though lunch, being in the office when the boss was in the office and not stopping until the job was done. Millennials tend to view work schedules as fluid – it doesn’t matter where or at what hour you get the work done as long as you finish by the deadline. While a mid-day run may seem a reasonable break to you, it could look like eating company time and dollars to other generations.

What to do?

  • Allow for different working schedules. Speak clearly about what you’re getting done and when. Allow others the same flexibility as you and ensure that everyone can feel a sense of comfort in it.

  • When you think you’re done, do one more thing. One of the most common complaints I hear about Millennials is that “they expect reward for just doing their job” or “not going above and beyond.” Interpretation of these sentiments aside, err on the side of doing more than just enough and you’ll be sure to win the respect of other generations.

Stereotype #4: All Millennials are the same

I know that this isn’t true and so do you! It’s always a bummer when one Millennial ruins it for others on a team or in a company because they embody all the stereotypes. Here’s my plea as a fellow Millennial: be the good one. And that means honoring the great traits that we have. Other generations view us as innovative, creative and ambitious. Let’s work harder to associate ourselves with the positive traits and distance ourselves from the negative ones. It’s good to be different and take pride in those differences – so honor how you’re different as Millennial, never stop being self-aware and fine-tune your humility.

About the author:

As a Millennial and generational expert, Hannah's passion and mission is to use a healthy blend of stories and stats to help people gain a deeper understanding of one another. Hannah is a guest blogger for The Mentor Method. Interested in sharing your voice and expertise? Apply to be a guest blogger!

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