If you are already a leader, you are most likely not from Generation Y (Millennials.) You are more likely to be a “Baby Boomer” or from “Generation X.” With this, as we grow older, we begin to notice our way of doing things is not to the same as our children.
We begin to ask ourselves questions like:
Why aren’t they behaving as we want them to? How will our organisations survive with behavior patterns like this? How do we change them?
Us & Them Thinking
“Two roads diverged in a wood – I took the one less Tweeted about.”
It’s easy to think about “us” and “them” with the problem-side-of-the-equation usually emanating from “them.” Even when we try to empathise with Millennials (the “them,”) we think from the context of our own early lives.
We hear, “I remember being a teenager and I didn’t act like that. So why do you?
The point we miss in this type of reaction is that we are all physically and mentally molded by our complex changing experiences.
Our Brains are Plastic
“The send button is mightier than the sword.”
Billions of synapses form and break in our brains every second in response to sensory inputs and feedback from thoughts and emotions. If the intensity and quality of those inputs changes our brains adapt to meet these new demands.
Now think about the effects over the last fifty years of television, computer games and the internet. As we get older our brains become less plastic with differences between older and younger people becoming more obvious and extreme.
“In the transmission of human culture, people always attempt to replicate, to pass on to the next generation the skills and values of the parents, but the attempt always fails because cultural transmission is geared to learning, not DNA.” ~ Gregory Bateson
How are Millennials Different?
“Keep your friends closer but your profile even closer.”
Millennials think differently. They have different value systems and are uncomfortable in hierarchical structures. Joan Snyder Kuhl discusses how leaders can invest in Milennials for the future of their organization.
“If your company can transform the way it operates to match the way these new workers think, live, and work, you will reap the rewards.” ~ Brian Halligan
Plastic Adaptive Organisations
No matter how charismatic, leaders are powerless to counteract decades of social conditioning. It’s more sensible and productive long-term, to flex organisational cultures to accommodate Millennials and capitalise on their energy.
Perpetuating current structures and practices places Millennials in psychological conflict resulting in stress, loss of quality and poor productivity.
The way people work best continues to change and leaders and organisations who can’t or won’t adapt will fail to attract and keep talented young people.
Supporting the Millennial Mission
As years go by each generation faces the challenge of integrating younger people. The two different generational cultures want to work together but the balance of power is unequal. The “older establishment” has power and perpetuates current ideology whilst the Millennials have little power but have huge energy and a strong desire for meaning.
How do Millennials differ from earlier generations? Money, promotion, and retirement plans are modest millennial drivers. They are driven more by meaningful missions like transforming society and replacing unsustainable industries. Many feel want to save the planet, feed the starving, cure HIV or eradicate inequality; it’s a bonus if they make a healthy income along the way.
They love to learn, wish to be treated as adults seek solutions and move rapidly from job to job. Their attention span may be short but they can have great focus. Consider the concentration required to play computer games for four hours!
“Oldies” are the “change management” generation; reacting to change. Millennials live in constant and accelerating change and are better equipped and more comfortable with the concept of intentional re-invention.
Flexing Organisational Culture
Many Millenials, have a natural entrepreneurial tendency and adaptive leaders harness their enthusiasm. Adaptive leaders re-frame organisational purpose and vision. Consider an organisation which is dedicated to encouraging its staff to focus more effectively and more rewardingly.
Organisations which capitalise on the way Millennials think, live, and work rather than impeding them with old outdated systems and structures, will reap the rewards of the millennial “bonus”.
“The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible — and achieve it, generation after generation.” ~ Pearl S Buck
When Millennial Take Charge
In time Millenials will take over the reins and develop leadership styles of their own. In their review, Adapting leadership theory and practice for the networked millennial generation, Janis Bragan Balda and Fernando Mora conclude this:
“It is possible that they (“Millenials”) conceive of their role not as other directed (as traditional servant leadership theory would envision leadership), however, but as service and action oriented for the benefit of others as well as for themselves.”
“Boomers” along with “Generation X” leaders are 100% responsible the world in which our children and grandchildren grew and hence for the ways their brains and behaviours developed. I apportion no guilt or judgement in this assertion but just as the rate of cultural change increases so will the rate at which existing leaders need step aside for the new breed.
“Parents often talk about the younger generation as if they didn’t have anything to do with it.” ~ Dr Haim Ginott
Think On These
Things you might consider today
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how aware are you of the needs and strengths of Millennials?
- Take a minute to talk to young people in your organisation. Ask them why they came to work here and the ways they like to work (make sure they know you are just trying to learn from them!)?
- How well does your organisation align with their needs and harness their strengths effectively for mutual benefit and achievement?
- What might you do to continue the conversation and evolve your culture?
Generation We: How Millennial Youth are Taking Over America and Changing the World - Eric H. Greenberg & Karl Weber
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