Understanding, Motivating and Leading Millennials

How can we better understand, motivate, manage, and lead the Millennials?

Online education - group of millennials studying with computers

It’s now official: I am getting old. The moment happened when I was part of a conversation involving how entitled the Millennials are. Millennials or Generation Y, are the demographic group following Generation X, range in age from teen to early 30s. Apparently, they have an enormous amount of self-esteem that is simply not backed up with a corresponding level of talent. As I was thinking about my kids’ sports activities in their early years, with no score keeping, their abundant trophy room with the extra “participation trophies,” and the numerous ceremonies and graduations I’ve attended, it’s easy to see how this could be the case. Overall, Millennials certainly are well praised and consistently given positive feedback to substantially boosting their optimism and confidence. As a result, they have been called lazy, self-centered and lacking long-term commitment. I have heard others use significantly harsher adjectives. Whatever your views are the fact is, according to U.S. Census Bureau of Statistics, there are over 80 million of them in the US. Certainly, they cannot be ignored and their role will continue to increase in society and the workforce.

If you have read some of the many articles about the Millennials, you know they are commonly characterized as:

• Questioning authority
• Seeking attention
• Communicating digitally
• Wanting better work/life balance
• Seeking variety
• Expecting a lot from employers 
(meaningful work, learning opportunities, new challenges)
• Seeking frequent praise and, yes, having more self-esteem than talent.

There are many worthy explanations about what has molded the Millennials.

Doting and overly involved parents, constant encouragement and sheltering from the harsh reality apparently all have played a role. While we can disagree about what the causes are, the 
reality is this generation is unique and different. They behave differently and they want different things.

First, let’s remember that we should always be extremely careful about stereotyping individuals. Everyone is unique. However, from the macro-level, a common overall understanding may help us a little more.

One of the significant trends our organization studies is the changes in the population from the perspective of natural, hard-wired, behavioral styles. These changes happen gradually over time, yet impact us all.

One of those clear and important trends is the increase in the I-style population around the world. This development is driven by the growing percentage of the I-style individuals among people who are born after 1985. For example, in the US approximately 37 percent of this population segment is I-style. In comparison, only 27 percent of the Baby Boomers are I- styles.

In Sweden, this young age group is made up of 50 percent of I-styles! Even in the notoriously “introverted” country of Finland, the youngsters are represented by 40 percent of I-styles. It just may be a time to readjust our stereotype of cool and reserved Finns.

You may wonder, “What in the world does this trend have to do with the Millennials?” Let’s briefly look at the I-style. Among their many attributes, they are characterized as:

• Social
• Spontaneous
• Visible
• Active
• Optimistic
• Impulsive
• Emotional
• Expressive
• Participating
• Energetic

While the I-style characteristics certainly do not explain everything about the Millennials, I suspect you can see the strong parallels between the attributes of the Millennials and the I-styles. Both “groups” like to be liked, want variety and flexibility, and dislike routines and formal settings.

Rather than separating people into “generations” that result in the famous and often challenging “generation gaps”, we could view the issue from the perspective of individuals’ styles slowly changing over time.

Since we know the behavioral styles of people are not “better” or “worse” – they are simply different –we can be more effective in understanding and appreciating these differences.

Also, when we consider what influences and motivates the different behavioral styles, we will be able to better motivate and lead the different “generations”. More importantly, when we increase our awareness of how we need to specifically modify and adjust our own style, we increase our chances of being more effective communicators, motivators and leaders. This can help us to leave our stereotypes behind.

Rather than making value judgments about what we like and don’t like about the Millennials (or other Generations), we could try to understand the issue from the I- style point of view. In the process, we need to ultimately remind ourselves that focusing on our own behaviors and finding ways to adjust our communication and understanding of others is what makes us more successful. The Millennials are here and more are coming into the workplace. Are you ready?

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