Are you leading a team of Millennials? Four ways you can rewire yourself to lead effectively.

Millennials is the buzz words today, at least everywhere that I go all I hear about is how Gen X and Baby boomers just can’t seem to grasp what a Millennial is.

So, before I even embark on this crucial journey of unlearning, especially when you have to lead a team of Millennials. Let us first understand the term “Millennial”.

“Millennials, also known as Generation Y or the Net Generation, are the demographic cohort that directly follows Generation X.

The term Millennials is usually considered to apply to individuals who reached adulthood around the turn of the 21st century. The precise delineation varies from one source to another, however. Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of the 1991 book Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, are often credited with coining the term. Howe and Strauss define the Millennial cohort as consisting of individuals born between 1982 and 2004. According to Iconoclast, a consumer research firm, the first Millennials were born in 1978.”


There are certain generalizations about Millennials, although like all generalizations there are always exceptions to the rule based on their demographics, culture, gender and upbringing. So, here goes…

1.   Millennials have grown up in world full of electronics and a strong social media presence.

2.   This is a generation that has received the most marketing attention.

3.   Due to all the exposure they get from such a young age, Millennials tend to be a lot more confident than their predecessors Gen X, however, often this confidence tends to spill over into a sense of strong entitlement.

4.   Millennials can no more be lured by the carrot and stick approach, monetary benefit is not motivation enough, and a strong work-life balance is a non-negotiable.

5.   Millennials tend to have different life goals than their predecessors, who focused on job security, buying a home, saving for a rainy day.

Now, let us say you have an opportunity to lead a team of Millennials, you are obviously excited and at the same time flummoxed. You are asking yourself these critical questions that can make or break your relationship with the team.

“How will they relate to me?”

“How will I relate to them?”

“Are we going to fall prey to ageism?”

“What motivates them?”

“How can I make my team respect me?”

In this article, I may not be able to answer all the questions, but I can definitely throw light on things that we need to change to be able to lead the Millennials, especially the ones in the demographic between the ages of 24 to 32.

1.   Learn to say “No”…

…Now more than ever, because with a Millennial just being their boss, their manager, does not automatically entitle you to their respect. You have got to earn it. And one way of earning their respect is by learning to say “No” to your manager or client, especially when you see that your team is stretched in terms of bandwidth.

During my fifteen years of taking behavioral and leadership training programs, across industries I often come across managers who find it extremely difficult to say “No” to their superiors. Instead they expect their teams to work weekends, work over time or to work from home and complete the deliverables.

Know this, that your team of Millennials will deeply resent this, especially if such projects are not an exception anymore, but the rule.

2.   Learn to take a “No”…

…Because no more does the term “Boss is always right” holds true. Recently, in an Assertiveness workshop a young lady spoke of an incident with her manager, a new manager. She had requested for a month long annual leave, she had accumulated leaves all year long and planned a holiday abroad during the lean period in their BU. She had even prepared a back up for the time she would be gone.

Her manager insisted that she take 15 days now and 15 days two months later. The reason was simple, how could he give her a month long leave in one stretch?

I urge you to analyze his reason, it was not that work would get impacted, neither was it a policy related concern. It was how can he, being her manager, allow a month long leave? Even though she deserved it.

Well, being the Millennial that she is, she skipped a level and went directly to her super boss, who seemed to have no issues with her taking a month long leave.

So, she did take her leave, however, her manager was not mature enough to look at this as a learning experience. He took this incident as a slight and went on to be distant and rude for the next six months. As a result, she brought this incident up at a skip level meeting and his behavior thereafter. In her meeting she made it plenty clear that she couldn’t wait to join another team.

All this because the manager’s ego could not take a “No” from his reportee.

3.   Arm yourself with information…

…I may have mentioned this right in the end; however, this is the cardinal learning for leading a team of Millennials. Respect is earned when you can assure your team that you are aware of the project priorities and have complete visibility.

As I write this, I have just finished a TNA (Training Needs Analysis) with a team of Millennials. As a part of the TNA, I was to observe one of their project update meetings, which was being conducted by their Manager. Beautifully done meeting, with ‘post its’ that said “Things going good – Delivered most of the committed stories”. And one of her team members couldn’t help but ask, “What is most? Does ‘most’ have a number?”

And the manager responded, typically, “How does that matter?” Which ensued an argument between the two justifying their points.

To be honest, I was glad she asked that question; because as a manager to Millennials, you have to expect questions, in fact expect to be bombarded by questions. And your armor would be knowledge. Focus on data, on numbers, make performance quantifiable, because only numbers are black and white.

And that is why “Manager” leading a team of Millennials, you need to learn to ask questions, not just to your team, but to your managers as well. Get complete information, be armed with data, and use your knowledge as a weapon to earn respect and your ability to respect a “No” as path to building better relationships.

4.   Invest time in your team…

…Learn to communicate, identify individual aspirations and align them with the company’s priorities, as much as possible. I am reminded of early in my career when a Millennial joined our team. She had finished her management degree from a highly reputed B-School and all our eyes were alight on her to bring in a wave of innovation into our team. However, in the first month post joining, she brought no process or policy changes, instead she asked anyone and everyone who would listen to her, what her prospects of growth in that company were? Now you need to understand that we were a support function, and lived under the common myth that growth is slow in “Support” since we are not revenue generating citizens of the company.

After weeks of asking around the block, her manager (my manager) finally got a whiff of her query and decided to meet the entire team and explain the growth process in our function and what can each of us do to move forward. Believe me, there were things I was completely oblivious to about my career path, until I attended that meeting.

Your team of Millennials also have such questions burning through their heads, and the best ways to quell the curiosity is to communicate, talk regularly, and understand aspirations, goals and priorities.

So, to recap, four ways you can rewire yourself to successfully lead a team of Millennials,

Learn to say “No”,

Learn to take a “No”

Arm yourself with knowledge

Invest time in your team