Your leadership is ingenious. Your attitude is diverse. Your drive is inclusive. Your view of life is futuristic. You carry a confident disposition and an optimistic viewpoint that is complemented by an aptitude for pragmatic problem solving. Simply put, you are a millennial leader.
Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of Millenials Rising: The Next Generation say that although everyone in a particular generation does not hold the exact same values or beliefs, overall people share similar formative experiences, thus creating a generational identity. With this in mind, the following characteristics of generational leadership offer an invaluable perspective to millenials:
Baby Boomers are lead with “command and control”.
Generation X is lead with “development and commitment”.
Millennials lead with “innovation and change”.
In leading with innovation and change, one of the challenges millennial leaders face is leading employees older than them, due to generational differences. Here are six useful tips to optimize your ability to lead ‘up’ both individuals and teams.
Traits of a great millennial leader
Honor those who have gone before you
You are but one group of people. The most recent. But, you will not be the last. You are reaping the rewards, grabbing the baton, and changing the world. With grace, make a conscious effort to identify with each generation before you, knowing that at your age—your stage in life—they, too, shared in your aspiration of making the world better. The difference? You have the opportunity to do what they could not. However, they created this world for you to do just that. So, honor.
Show your curiosity
Curiosity is one of your greatest assets. When leading up, make the connection with where you are and where they would be if they could be you. Ask them what they wish they would have known at your age. Each generation is a culture, in terms. Yours, too, is a culture. In this multicultural world we live in with ethnic, sociological, and ideological differences, syncretism is key. By curiously inquiring, you will have new perspectives to consider and ideas to try.
Ask more questions than answers
Talk to anyone with a higher-level degree, and you will find that the fascination of knowledge dwells in the unknown, and learning something you do not know. Asking good questions leads to more good questions. This teaches you that, before any simple answer is given, there is much to consider. Questions lead to understanding. A quick answer often reveals one’s ignorance. The older generations, in their wisdom, respond to situations at their age quite differently than younger ones. Why? Perhaps they have learned something you are still trying to grasp.
Listen, Listen, Listen
I wish I had remembered the old saying, “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Listen twice as much as you speak. Be a fly on the wall, and take time to absorb everything that you hear. As you listen and take notes, realize that you do not know everything. At 31, I was leading those older than me and I was in way over my head. The only thing I had going for me? I knew everything! Or so I thought. Listening and hearing are two different things, where the first is intentional, and the second is obscure.
Your fast pace is a strength that you’ve acquired as a result of the socio-cultural influences around you. You process information and spearhead progress at 100-miles an hour. However, due to the structure, stability, and sustainability that are found among core workplace values in previous generations, they may be apprehensive of ‘speed’.
To them, speed counteracts with traits that contribute to longevity. If you drive too fast and leave folks who care about the processes, they will certainly become frustrated with your leadership. If the pattern continues, they will likely assume that you are going fast because you have something to conceal. And eventually, you might risk losing their trust, which will inevitably question your motives and integrity. Therefore, make your speed a strategic factor that attracts, and not repels.
Ken Blanchard Companies, one of the world’s leading experts in organizational development state, “The expectations and influences of a generation are often a by-product of that generation’s unique upbringing and life experiences.” The leadership strengths you are ‘made of’ are a direct result of this.
And if you’re a young millennial, and a leader, chances are you are the smartest person in the room among those older than you, and you have the capability of being a stellar leader of generations. Being mindful of the value of honoring, the necessity of curiosity, asking questions, listening, and watching your pace, will increase the trust level of the team you’re leading up, and raise your credibility as a revolutionary millennial leader.