Leading the Millennials: 6 Characteristics That Separate Good Managers From the Bad


If we are to capitalize on the strengths of a growing army of emerging leaders, it’s more important than ever that we learn to adapt to the changing needs of today’s workforce.

Made up of a little more than 80 million individuals in the U.S. (nearly 3 billion worldwide), the Millennials are a large generational cohort that range in age from their young teens to early 30s. They are ethnically diverse (1 in 3 in America is not Caucasian), globally minded (20 percent in the U.S. have at least one parent who is an immigrant), team oriented, and have greater access to education than any other generation in history.

Currently entering the workforce in droves, the Millennials are also known for leaving millions of organizational leaders perplexed about how best to lead them.

The Study

Mick’s team at Leadership Traq sought to uncover the core competencies needed to manage this next newest generation of workers more effectively. For their study, they interviewed managers from a wide variety of industries, including aerospace, retail and professional sports.

At every employer, LeadershipTraq asked the HR directors to identify:

  • three internal managers who do well managing 20-somethings, and
  • three managers who struggle managing 20-somethings.

They interviewed each of these managers individually, and then pulled them together as study groups for further research.

Going into the study, Mick acknowledges the research team had certain assumptions. 

They assumed women would be more effective at managing Millennials – but their assumptions were proven wrong. They were, as a whole, no more or less effective than their male counterparts.

They assumed parents would be more effective at managing Millennials.  Again, their assumptions were proved wrong.

What they did find were striking differences between the perceptions of those who are successful versus those who are challenged when managing millennials. 

6 Characteristics of “Successful” vs. “Challenged” Managers of Millennials

Both those who are successful in managing Millennials and those who are challenged in this arena are faced with identical circumstances. However, their outlook and response vary dramatically in six key ways. 

1. Need for change

Challenged managers believe Millennials need to change in order to make it in the real world.

Successful managers believe leaders need to change the way they manage in order to be more effective in today’s world. They are learners who believe knowledge can be gained from the Millennials in order to do better.

2. Locus of Control

Challenged managers have an external locus of control, believing there is very little they can do about their circumstances. They are stuck with whatever hand life has dealt them.

Successful managers have an internal locus of control, believing there are some things they can’t control about their circumstances, but there many other things they can

3. Response to Ideas

When questioned or otherwise challenged by their subordinates, challenged managers respond with punishment. They shun or sanction 20-somethings who are perceived as being difficult.

When similarly questioned or challenged, successful managers respond to their subordinates’ suggestions with phrases like, “Well… Let’s think about that.” If the idea has merit, successful managers implement changes. If not, successful managers use it as a teaching moment, helping Millennials understand why things are done the way they are.

4. Authority

Challenged managers see their authority as being the direct result of their position.

Successful managers also recognize the power that comes with position, but in addition, establish authority by building relationships with those they lead.

5. Age perception

As a result of working with 20-somethings, challenged managers generally feel old or stodgy.

Successful managers find that working with 20-somethings makes them feel younger, more energetic.

6. Path to Success

Challenged managers view Millennials as a roadblock on their pathway to success.

Successful managers see themselves as key players in the success of the Millennials they lead. They think, “I can make a difference in this kid’s life, helping him/her reach a higher level.”

The Need to Adapt

In the podcast, Mick observed that the characteristics that help a manager succeed in leading Millennials are the same kind of characteristics that all generations like to experience in the managers who lead them.

Unlike previous generations, however, Millennials are not willing to settle or wait very long for a workplace situation to improve.  They far more likely to walk, leaving their organization if they feel poorly managed.

If we are to engage and capitalize on the strengths of a growing army of emerging leaders, it’s more important than ever that we learn to adapt to the changing needs of today’s workforce.

By Mick Ukleja


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