The Biggest Mistake in Leadership

When it comes to businesses and the people who keep them running the rules are changing faster than ever before. This hyperactive environment presents unprecedented and unpredictable challenges to leaders everywhere, every day. 

 

Because everything else is changing it must be time to change how we lead. Right?

 

Well, maybe not. Actually not at all.

 

Leaders have behaved very much the same across the centuries. We know they come in different sizes, shapes, colors, and personalities. Yet by and large leaders do things, and get results, in similar ways. They always have and there is not a shred of evidence that’s going to change anytime soon.

 

Leaders don’t lead businesses, they don’t lead organizations and they don’t lead things. Leaders lead people and only people. Because people haven’t changed much since… well since there have been people on the earth, leadership hasn’t changed much either. 

 

Some would say that maybe people didn’t change before but with Millennials taking over the world everything is changing, even people. While there are some differences between the generations there are far more similarities. 

 

Leaders of today need to understand those differences. They also need to understand that despite huge changes in work environments, even bigger changes in the use of technology and the fact that for the first time ever we have 4 generations in the workforce, people have always had the same basic wants and needs.

 

People don’t want to be managed they need to be led.

 

Leadership means creating a vision. Leaders are the first to articulate an organization’s vision, and tell how they expect to make it a reality. The vision includes a benefit to all stakeholders. People will not follow a leader unless they know where the leader is going. They are also much more likely to follow a leader when there is something in it for them personally. As a leader you need to turn around once in a while to see if anyone is following. If no one is behind you then you may have a leadership title but you aren’t truly leading. Authentic Leaders bring their vision to life through inspiring initiatives and contagious commitment.  

 

Leadership means communicating Core Values. Leaders communicate values at the heart of an organization. They share the principles that both hold an organization together and drive it forward. Not only do Authentic Leaders communicate those values, they live them. When a leader’s words do not match their actions they will find their leadership walk to be a lonely one.

 

Leaders engage and encourage people. Authentic Leaders understand that their people are their greatest resource. They know that their success, and the success of their organization, is completely dependent upon the success of those people. Authentic Leaders invest a huge amount of time and energy in their people. Many people think of a CEO as a Chief Executive Officer. If that CEO is also an Authentic Leader then they are also the Chief Encouragement Officer. 

 

The biggest mistake a leader can make today is believing that the requirements for leadership success have changed. Leadership is about people and only people. Don’t jump at leadership “fads” and the people promoting “Millennial Leadership.” If you want to lead someone from any generation you’ll need to understand that no matter their age, they are people too. 


That also is unlikely to change any time soon. 

The Real Problem With Millennial Employees

Much has been written about the differences between the Millennial generation and other generations. It’s true that there are differences and some of those differences are substantial. 

 

It’s also true that there are more similarities between Millennials and other generations than there are differences. Millennials have similar career goals. They share many of the same values especially when it comes to leadership values.  They change jobs for many of the same reasons as their parents and grandparents did. 

 

Despite an opinion that is way too popular, Millennials are not slackers. Far from it actually. They work as hard and long as most baby boomers. They care just as much, they are as passionate or even more passionate about what they do and how they do it than the average baby boomer. 

 

One key difference is a desire for more flexibility. They don’t want flexibility in order to do less work. In fact it’s the contrary; they want more flexibility to be able to weave their work and personal lives together. They are willing to work long hours, they just want a little more freedom to choose which hours they work. 

 

This presents challenges for organizations that have Millennials in customer facing positions. But the reality is that too many baby boomer leaders/managers simply want to control which hours their people work. They feel that way because when they were rising through the ranks their work hours were determined for them. That’s old thinking. That’s expensive thinking too!

 

Here is some more old thinking and it’s even more expensive thinking. 

 

Most companies encourage their new employees to spend their first few years in the organization learning the ropes. It makes perfect sense because very few entry level employees know how to apply their “school knowledge” to real life work situations. 

 

The problem with that mindset of allowing  less experienced employees time to learn the ropes leads many managers/leaders to assume that their Millennial employees have too little to offer when compared to more experienced employees. 

 

But Millennials have much to offer. They are technologically savvy. They are nonlinear thinkers who don’t know that “something has always been done that way.” Millennials are willing to try new technology and are particularly adapt at exposing “group think.” I have to admit “group think” is often prevalent with my baby boomer generation. 

 

If you’re a leader of Millennials today you must be willing to risk allowing them more input into as many areas of your organization as possible. Yes, they have a lot of growing to do but that doesn’t mean they can’t help more experienced people grow in new areas at the same time.

 

People like me can learn so much from Millennials that sometimes I wish I was one. (But then I come to my senses) 


It turns out that the real problem with Millennials is more a of problem FOR Millennials. They have the ability to move slower companies into the future at a much faster pace. They only need to be given the chance. 

Different Leadership

Much has been written about the differences in various generational groups. Especially the vast differences when it comes to leading Millennials. 

 

But new information has recently come to light that reveals some surprising insights into who this mysterious demographic actually is. As it turns out, they are people! And they are people who have more in common with other age groups than you might think. 

 

If you’re leading Millennials it might be good if you knew something about them, something that’s actually true. 

 

Millennials now make up the largest generation in the workforce. They are beginning to assume leadership roles of their own within organizations. Their impact grows by the day. 

 

Millennials’ goals are surprisingly similar to older generations. 25% want to make a positive impact on their organization verses 23% of Boomers. 22% of Millennials want to help solve social and environmental challenges vs 24% of Boomers.

 

Most older generations assume that Millennials want to do everything online yet when surveyed Millennials say their top three preferences for learning new skills at work are physical, not virtual. They would prefer to attend a third-party sponsored conference, attend in-person classroom training or work alongside knowledgeable colleagues. 

 

Everybody knows that Millennials want constant acclaim and they think everyone on the team should get a trophy. Everybody knows that except Millennials. 

 

The facts say that 35% of Millennials simply want fair and ethical treatment. 35% want to work in a transparent environment where relevant information is willingly shared and 29% want to work in an environment where their actual accomplishments are recognized. That sounds an awful lot like Boomers to me!

 

You need to be careful when investing in Millennials because they are more likely to jump ship if a position doesn’t fulfill their needs, right? Well, not exactly. 

 

Employees of each generation share the same reasons for changing organizations. 47% of Gen X’ers leave a company for more money or a more creative environment. That number is 42% for Boomers and …. are you ready for it…. 42% for Millennials. 

 

There are obviously differences between the generations but there always has been. This is nothing new. As a leader you must educate yourself on what those differences mean to your organization and understand how you can actually use those differences to build a stronger team. You must also realize that overall, there are more commonalities than differences.

 

Millennials aren’t lazy, they aren’t disloyal, they aren’t any needier when it comes to recognition than any other age group. If you focus on the differences between groups of people you’ll find them. If you view “different” as bad it will be bad, if you view different as an opportunity then that’s what it will be.

 

While you should be aware of the differences between generations what you really need to be aware of are the differences within the generations. Lumping all Millennials into one group and trying to lead every member of that group the same way is a huge mistake. Just as it would be to lead every member of any generation exactly the same. 

 

You cannot lead everyone the same because everyone is different…even within generational groups. You need different leadership for different people.

 

The most effective leaders talk with their people often enough to truly understand their differences, they ask questions until they grasp what makes each person unique. Then they lead them in such as way as to help them succeed. 


It’s a lot of work to lead everyone differently but it’s really the only way to lead authentically. If your people aren’t worth the time it takes to truly get to know them then I’m sorry to say that you may not have time to lead.