What I Learned from a Millennial

I am often, some would say too often, surprised at how much I have to learn. I’m also often surprised at who I learn it from. 

 

Such was the case a couple of weeks ago when I was doing a presentation I called “Selling Through the Generations.” The focus was on the differences of selling to the various generations with a particular focus on selling to millennials. 

 

Usually when I’m presenting to a group I try to know more about my subject than my audience. If that’s not possible I at least try to help the group use what they know if a more effective way. This group was unique in that there were 7 or 8 millennials mixed in and I had no doubt that they knew more, way more in fact, about being millennials than I ever could. 

 

But I was really just presenting information that came from the ton of research done on generational differences so I was comfortable with my material. 

 

Despite everything you may have read and heard there are really more similarities between the generations than there are differences. There are however some things that make millennials different from their parent’s and grandparent’s generations. But those differences are not what I’m writing about today. I’m writing about what I learned. 

 

There are lots of names for the generation born roughly between 1978 and 2000. Most of us know that generation as the millennials, some people call them Gen Y and some people call them somewhat divisively “the trophy generation.” 

 

This term comes from the “fact” that millennials need a constant stream of recognition…or a trophy for coming in 9th place in a 10 person race. (Don’t worry, in today’s world 10th place gets a trophy too)

 

I don’t remember exactly how we began the discussion on millennial’s “need” for recognition but somewhere in that conversation one of the millennials in the room said, “we never asked for a trophy, you just gave it to us.” 

 

He went on to say that IF millennials are indeed the trophy generation then it was the generations that came before them who made them that way. 

 

I have done a lot of research on the differences between the generations and written and spoken on the topic somewhat often and I had NEVER considered that thought for a second. But a second is about all it took to know that this millennial was exactly right!

 

Think about it, a little kid competing in soccer or a baseball game had no idea that everyone was supposed to be a winner. They didn’t know that they “needed” or “deserved” recognition for every little thing….until some well-meaning adult told them. 

 

Boomers and maybe some early Gen Xers made millennials whatever they are and now it’s boomers who complain about the “trophy needing” “over-pampered” “brats.” 

 

Millennials are really more like other generations than many people think. The big thing I learned that day is that they have figured out some things that the older generations seem to have missed. 


I don’t think I’ll ever look at millennials quite the same again. 


One Way to Grow a Leader

It sounds odd but one of the best methods a leader has for growing future leaders is to not lead. Well at least not lead the way most people think of leading which is to be out front showing the way. 

 

What I really mean is to lead from the rear. Push your future leaders out front and see what they can do. 

 

If your goal as a leader is to grow more leaders (that should most certainly be one of your goals as a leader) then you must first understand that leadership can’t really be taught, it must be experienced. You can tell your followers what leadership characteristics are important, you can talk about making good decisions and the sacrifices that Authentic Leaders make but you can’t build a leader with words alone. 

 

So from time to time you must allow your future leaders to lead today. Right now, ready or not here they come! They may make mistakes along the way but you’ll be there to help them fix it. Notice, and this is key, I didn’t say you’ll be there to fix it for them, I said you’ll be there to help them fix it. 

 

Sometimes you may even see the mistake coming but you’ll let it happen anyway, just so your future leader can learn from it. I wouldn’t suggest sitting back and watching a serious mistake just happen but if the mistake involves only minor consequences then use it as a teaching opportunity. 

 

Your future leaders are far more likely to learn from a mistake they had to fix than they are to learn from a mistake you didn’t let happen. 

 

Not allowing your future leaders to take the helm from time to time is like planting grass seed with no intention of ever watering it. It may always have potential but everyone knows it will never be a yard the kids can play in.


Sometimes, maybe even often, the best thing a leader can do to grow future leaders is to simply get the heck out of their way. Give ‘em a push and stand back, lead from the rear and watch your leaders of tomorrow grow.

 

The Challenge of Frustration

Recently I had the opportunity to discuss leadership with a group of mid-level managers. At the end of my presentation I was approached by a significant number of the attendees who all had the same question.

 

The questions, while asked differently all had the same theme: what do I do when my “leader” isn’t a real leader at all?

 

The answer to that question is simple and complicated all at once. I’m assuming (I know that’s dangerous) that the people asking the question are truly leaders. That means they care about the people they lead, they understand that their own success is completely dependent upon the success of the people they lead and that they get as much pleasure from their people’s success as they do their own. 

 

If that is the case then the answer to the question is this: Lead Up.

 

Lead your leader the same way you lead your followers. Realize that your leader is a person too, realize that they, like every other human being on the planet, have their faults and limitations. 

 

The most Authentic Leaders lead in every direction, down, across and up. That means that instead of criticizing the person above you, which accomplishes nothing, you should be trying to help them overcome their faults and limitations. You can coach them the same way you coach others, you can demonstrate that you care about them the same way you demonstrate that you care about others. You can invest yourself in their success as if their success was your own…because for an Authentic Leader it is.

 

But…and this is what makes it complicated, before you can do any of that you must earn the right to lead up. 

 

Earning the right to lead up requires that you lead yourself exceptionally well. You must have the trust of the person above you to lead up. You earn that trust by being completely transparent with your leader. You don’t say one thing to them and then something else to your followers. You do what you say you will do 100% of the time. You display the same integrity upwards as you do across and down. (just an aside here, you either have integrity all the time or you don’t have integrity any time)

 

You must lead yourself in such a way that the person above you does not feel as if you require much help from them. You control your own attitude and keep it positive as much as humanly possible. You choose your words well and seldom just spout off the first thing that comes to mind. 

 

And then there’s this…you let them devour your ego food!

 

You allow them to sometimes, often, or even frequently take your success as their own. (I told you this was complicated) You take on assignments that your leader may receive credit for doing, you do more than you are required to do knowing full well that “others” may never know it was you who accomplished so much. 

 

I know from personal experience how truly challenging and frustrating that can be but here’s a question for you: are you leading to lead or are you leading for some type of personal glory?

 

If you’re leading to lead that means you lead because you want to make a difference; your motives are not selfish they are selfless. That’s a huge difference that allows you to feed your own ego even after giving much of your ego food to someone else. 

 

YOU know what you did and if you’re truly leading to lead, if you’re truly leading for the benefit of others and not yourself, then that is enough. More than enough actually. 


Leadership comes from many levels within an organization, it also goes in many directions. If you’re experiencing the frustration that comes with following a leader who doesn’t lead then do what real leaders do, stop complaining and start leading…today.


The One True Prerequisite of Leading

You must have a follower!

 

No matter what your title happens to be, no matter how lofty your position may be within your organization if no one is following you then you are not leading. Period!

 

It’s probably the number one leadership mistake I see and I see it often, very very often. People believe that it’s their title or position that makes them a leader. This misnomer is especially common with people new to a position of leadership. 

 

But here is the absolute fact: titles and positions on an organizational chart do not make you a leader. The people following you make you a leader. 

 

You can be promoted to a position with a fancy title that makes it sound like you are a leader but you must earn the right to truly lead. No one, absolutely no one can promote you to the position of Leader, that can only come from the people you would lead and you must constantly demonstrate that you’re worthy of it.

 

The fastest way to demonstrate that is by showing your people that you care about them. Bringing donuts to the meeting is nice but a drone could do that. 

 

Showing you care requires that you connect with your people in a meaningful way. If you’re in a leadership position then I have some questions for you… How much do you REALLY know about the people you claim to lead? Do you know their goals, their needs, their hopes and desires for their future?

 

Do you know what their life struggles are outside of work? Did you ever consider those struggles may affect their work performance? Did you ever consider that maybe, just maybe you could help them, coach them or perhaps just offer them someone to talk to?

 

Leadership is about people and to earn the right to lead you’re going to have to be willing to SHOW you care. You must be willing to invest a piece of yourself in someone else’s life. You see, when you make a difference in your business you’re a manager and that’s great but when you make a difference in the life of someone else you’re a leader and that’s better, much much better.


If you’re in a leadership position it’s a good idea to turn around once in a while to see if anyone is really following. If they are not then it’s possible, actually likely that the people who could be following you have decided that you simply don’t care enough to truly lead.


Improvement Requires Change

I am frequently surprised by people who want something “better” in their life. I guess that’s not really the part that surprises me, after all, who wouldn’t want “better”. The part that surprises me is that they want something better but they are not willing to accept any amount of change in their life to get it.

 

Any improvement, even a little one, requires that something must change. 

 

Just because you may not enjoy change (you’re most certainly not alone there) does not mean there will be no changes in your life. Change happens whether we want it to or not. 

 

Once you accept the fact that change is one of life’s certainties then you have the choice of whether those changes will drive you or you will drive them. That means the real question is will the changes in your life happen to you or because of you.

 

If you want to drive the change in your life then you must decide what changes you want. You must be very specific about what you want, “better” isn’t nearly specific enough to make it happen. Knowing exactly what you want to be better is a key to having it. You’ll also find that being able to effectively communicate, to yourself and others, exactly why you want the improvement is a big help too.

 

When you know what you want then set your goals and make a plan on exactly how you’ll make the change come about. This is the part many people miss, they want to see a change but they have no plan to make it happen. You need a plan! 

 

Now here’s the thing about your plan… it’s very unlikely to work, at least exactly as you had drawn it up. Expect disruptions in your plan, your path to successful change with be littered with obstacles and nay-saying people. Push on!

 

While you may find your plan wasn’t perfect it’s likely your planning process was sufficient enough to allow you to get right back on course when someone or something pushes you off. 

 

Be patient but be sure you’re not just procrastinating. The very best time to begin your journey to successful change is the moment you’ve identified the change you desire. “Later,” “tomorrow,” and “someday” are just words that slow you down, or stop you all together. The word you need is “now” as in right now, immediately, today. 

 

Be sure to surround yourself with supportive people. Change isn’t easy but like everything else, it’s easier when we get some morale support along the way. Never allow anyone to tell you that you can’t succeed and for heavens sake, never say that self-defeating horrible thing to yourself. 

 

You are going to experience change in your life; for some people that’s pretty bad news, for others it’s pretty good news. I guess it just depends on if your sitting behind the steering wheel of the change bus or if you’re just along for the ride.


So…where are you sitting today?

You’re Gonna Get the Beep

I haven’t done any real research on this but it seems to me the odds are pretty good these days that when we call someone we’re going to get their voicemail rather than actually talking to them. 

 

There are probably several reasons for that but I think a big one is the simple fact that people are really busy. The convenience of letting a call go to voicemail is just easier than stopping whatever we’re doing to take a call. 

 

It’s gotten to the point where I’m almost surprised when a real person actually answers the phone. I expect to get someone’s voicemail and I’m prepared for the moment I hear the beep. You know the beep, it is the indication that you should start talking. 

 

I’m amazed at the number of people who use the phone for business who are apparently surprised when they get someone’s voicemail and who then go almost totally braindead when they get the beep. 

 

They stutter, stammer, hem and haw, start and stop their sentences and generally sound like it’s the first time they have ever gotten the beep. 

 

Folks, I have to tell you if you’re making phone calls then you’re gonna get the beep. Often!

 

Be prepared for it…

 

If you’re in sales and you get the beep then every stutter and stammer, each hem and haw, and all the false starts impact not only your professionalism but your credibility as well. A customer or prospect might just get the impression that you don’t know what you’re doing, no matter how experienced you actually are. 

 

The lack of preparation for the simple task of leaving a coherent message is easily spotted by your prospect or customer. Plan as if you’re going to get the beep and know exactly what you’re going to say. Know why you’re calling and why the person you’re leaving the message for should return your call. Say everything as if you’ve said it before. Say it with the confidence of someone who has said it a thousand times and with the enthusiasm of someone saying it for the first time. Give the appearance of a professional who is prepared to have a professional conversation. 

 

But…

 

When I say know “exactly” what you are going to say I mean that you should say it, really just say it, speak it as if the other person is on the phone. Do not read it. If your message is really just something you read from a script then in my little opinion you probably don’t deserve a call back. 

 

Professionals prepare to succeed. Professional salespeople prepare for every customer interaction, even for interactions with the customer’s voicemail. Every time you call someone you should be prepared to leave a message, a clear, compelling and concise message. 


Leaving only your name and phone number by the way is NOT a message, it’s just some information that the person you’re calling will likely never use. Prepared professionals provide the other person with a solid reason for calling them back. 


If you use a phone to call other people you’re gonna get the beep. If you’re using the phone for business purposes then you best be prepared for it cause if you’re not the beep may be the only thing you ever hear from your prospect or customer.

Goals are Intended to be Flexible

Did you set goals for 2017? I sure hope so because your chances for a successful 2017 increased ten-fold if you invested time in a serious goal setting process as the year began.

     

But once your goals are set you’re not done. Goals are meant to be flexible, changing as your circumstances change. That means you must review your goals on a regular basis, adjusting some, adding others and maybe even discarding those that no longer fit.

     

Only 25% of 2017 is left to accomplish the goals that you set forth earlier in the year. Now is a great time to conduct a review of your goals. 

 

What’s working and maybe even more importantly, what’s not. Has what’s important to you changed to the point that your goals need to change to stay in sync? Do your goals still seem realistic and obtainable? Are you on pace to achieve the things you hoped for when you set these goals? Are your priorities the same today as they were when you first wrote your goals?

     

These are all questions you should seriously consider asking yourself; even if the year is not going as planned, it’s not too late to make whatever adjustments are required in order to achieve the success you envisioned for 2017. 


Flex your goals for success! That’s how successful people achieve their goals.