Management and leadership guru Simon Sinek explains with compassion but no pity why millennials behave as they do – often alienating older generations who think of them as entitled and narcissistic.
He points out that millennials (at least in theU.S.) were raised to feel special, and shielded against the real world by “helicopter” parents. I actually had an experience with one such parent when I was running the university outreach recruiting program at DreamWorks Animation. I received a call one day from an agitated parent whose 20-something master’s-degree graduate offspring had recently started in our intensive training program for new artists and technicians. They instantly began complaining about the working conditions and the unfairness of asking their son or daughter (I forget the specifics) to do whatever it was we were asking them all to do as part of the curriculum. I stopped the woman before she had the chance to finish her rant, and, as politely as I could, explained that it was not appropriate for her to be calling on her child’s behalf, and that as an adult and an employee, they were perfectly capable – and actually encouraged – to bring any problems or issues forward for discussion with their supervisor. Further, I encouraged her to have her child call me directly if they were experiencing a problem that they felt uncomfortable talking about, and I would help them out. But I told her that I would not talk about her child’s issues with her. And I hung up the phone
Sinek’s talk explains how millennials have actually been socially crippled by this kind of upbringing, and that the problem is one of low self-esteem as they hit the work force with high expectations, and then get hit with the reality: they’re going to have to work hard, they’re not going to change the world overnight, and they’re going to have to learn to stick it out, create engaged and caring relationships with co-workers, and just generally suck it up.
As their parents, we boomers have the opportunity, if not the responsibility, to turn this around through mentoring them responsively, not reactively. So, instead of just dismissing them and expecting them to act differently because they should “just know how to do it because we knew how to do it…,” we should spend a little bit more time explaining the “whys and the where fors” of the kind of social etiquette and social skills that they’re going to need to learn and the (in Sinek’s view) addictive and enervating social habits that they’ve picked up through pop culture and social media.