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. 

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. 

Your Greatest Business Threat

Pretty much every business in the world does some sort of occasional “threat assessment” to determine areas of their business where they could be vulnerable. Most of these assessments are externally focused and while that is obviously important they miss the single greatest threat to their future. It’s a threat so severe that in many cases it threatens the very existence of their business.

The threat they miss comes from the rapidly changing demographics of the workforce. 

Roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers reach retirement age every single day. The majority of them retire either a little bit before the age of 65 or a little after. 25% of boomers say they will need to work well past retirement age but many of those say they will significantly scale back their work hours. 

If we assume the age of 65 as the average retirement age then 10,000 Baby Boomers are leaving the workforce everyday. Every single day.

They are replaced by far far fewer Millennials. 

That’s the textbook definition of a problem. A very serious problem. 

In the trucking industry alone, for example, it’s estimated that there will be a shortage of over 100,000 drivers in just the next couple of years. The Millennials who replace boomers will have far less experience and know-how, and will need considerable training to get up-to-speed. This will lead to significant gaps in areas such as engineering, utilities, manufacturing, education, healthcare, and many many more professions. The majority of the less desirable manual labor jobs, even skilled positions like mechanics and service technicians will become increasing challenging, if not impossible, to fill. 

Just as important for leaders is the need for awareness as to just how differently Millennials will behave. Millennials significantly differ from Boomers in a number of ways: They want, actually need, more feedback and attention, and prefer the instant gratification of texting to the slower response of email; they prefer casual attire so they can just be themselves at work; they want tons more flexibility with scheduling and work location; they value the importance of their work over pay and benefits; and they want to be involved in strategy and not just told what to do. (It’s important to keep in mind when discussing generational differences that we’re discussing “generalities,” it’s just as unfair to “pigeonhole” the Millennial generation as any other)

None of this makes Millennials harder to work with or more challenging to lead, it just means a shift in leadership thinking. 

The differences however won’t matter one bit if you’re not proactively planning for the demographic change in your workforce. You won’t need to worry about how to lead a Millennial because you’ll be so far behind the curve that they would never join your organization in the first place.

The threat posed by the changing demographics is so severe that your next threat assessment (or whatever you want to call it) needs to be focused almost exclusively on the internal workings of your organization. Conduct a demographic risk-analysis of your team. What knowledge and skills are likely to leave your organization in the next five years and how will you replace it. 

To be clear, this is not your yearly process for assessing talent and creating succession plans, this is an almost person by person detailed assessment of strength areas that lead to the eventual determination of whether or not those strengths will be required in the future. 

If it’s determined that they will and those strengths are held by a Boomer then you have identified a threat.

If you intend to be in business 15 or 20 or perhaps even 10 years from now, you must develop a sense of urgency around this threat today. There are only so many people to fill the positions you need filled to sustain your business, you are right now, this very day, in competition for an ever shrinking talent pool. It makes no difference if your business is big or small, everybody is in the same boat.

If you’re alarmed at the tone of this post then that’s great, you have received my message in the manner in which I intended. 

I fully understand the difference between a real threat and an irrational apocalyptic kind of threat. This threat is the real kind, VERY very real; the numbers just don’t lie. If you disagree then I wish you luck cause you’re going to need it.