Millennial Managers are Here
This is not news. The oldest members of the millennial generation are in their 40s. According to a Harris Interactive study, 62% of millennials in the professional realm now oversee at least one direct report. Millennials bring a blend of technological proficiency, adaptability, and a values-driven approach to their leadership style.
This rise in millennial leadership not only reflects their growing professional expertise but also signals a broader transformation in organizational structures, values, and working methodologies. This shift impacts both the millennials assuming these roles and the GenZ, Gen X, and Boomer professionals reporting to them.
Shifting to the Millennial Mindset
Seniority – years on the job or in the profession – no longer serves as a defining criterion for promotion to leadership roles. Leadership is no longer primarily about tenure; it’s about adaptability, foresight, and the ability to inspire and innovate. When disruption and innovation make old processes and approaches outdated, doing it the same old way no longer makes sense.
New leadership understands the nuanced demands of a diverse, connected workforce and responds with empathy and strategic intelligence. It makes sense that millennial leaders with fewer years in the field can often bring a fresh perspective grounded in recent educational and management philosophies, technological intuitiveness, and a keen sense of global trends.
For Gen X and Boomer professionals, this shift may initially appear unsettling. But it’s also an invitation to recognize and embrace a more dynamic and holistic view of leadership. In this renewed framework, leadership becomes less about ‘time served’ and more about ‘value delivered’.
The silver lining for older professionals is that as they evolve in their careers, they are looking for more autonomy, trust, and working partnerships that reflect their established expertise. The new millennial-managed workplace can provide that collaborative and less authoritarian management style where older professionals can actually thrive.
Taking Our Cues From Millennial Leadership
So just what is there to respect if not admire and emulate about millennials in leadership positions? What exactly are they bringing to the workplace that older generations haven’t already figured out?
For starters, the flattening of traditional hierarchies into networked teams means that communication and feedback are much more important. Smart leaders know that they can’t have it all figured out and need smart and consistent input.
- The Importance of Regular Feedback: Millennials, having grown up in an age of instantaneous communication and digital interactions, inherently value the immediacy and clarity of feedback. This preference is not rooted in insecurity but rather in the desire for continuous improvement and alignment with organizational objectives.
- Bridging the Communication Gap: Regular check-ins, setting performance targets through OKRs and KPIs, and open dialogue sessions foster a transparent work environment. This not only supports employee growth but also helps projects stay on track and supports overall goals.
- Collaborative Problem-Solving: Flatter hierarchies mean more teams. Millennials have been at the forefront of figuring out the collaborative work environment, where issues can be identified and addressed, often relying on real-time technology tools like Slack to share information and empower solutions.
Remote/Hybrid Work Solutions
The pandemic only accelerated this challenge to traditional workplaces. Millennials have led the charge to eliminate the artificiality of the 9-to-5 work paradigm. They continue to advance the notion that productivity can be maintained without 40, 50, or more hours on-site.
- Navigating the New Normal: 69% of millennials believe that remote work is a stress-reliever, and 66% say that it promotes better work-life balance. 32% of millennial mothers say that remote work is what keeps them in their jobs. While the debate continues, it is apparent to many that a remote/hybrid workforce can help address many thorny worker issues, including the gender pay gap.
- Optimizing Productivity and Well-being: Millennial managers are more likely to champion a balance between productivity and well-being. They bring greater attention to the importance of mental health, and promote programs to address these concerns. Workplace wellness companies like Thrive Global are developing products and programs to improve bottom line performance while maintaining or increasing employee wellness and engagement.
- Leveraging Technology: The tech is only getting better, more intuitive, and more effective. Adding generative AI into the mix, despite its downsides, is already providing savvy workers with ways of being more productive. Embracing, adopting, and adapting the tech is part of the millennial playbook that older generations would do well to emulate.
Collaboration Over Competition
Collaboration isn’t only a reaction to a more team-centric workplace. It is also an opportunity for exponential growth and synergy. Rather than working in competing silos, workers are able to leverage greater access to information, insight, and feedback to contribute more.
- The Real Value of Diversity: It’s not just a buzzword. It’s a competitive advantage. Amassing the unique strengths of a collection of well-cast team members gives a leader more perspectives, experiences, and strategies to draw from. As such, millennial leaders are playing the role of facilitators, not bosses. Their role is to ensure that team members complement each other’s skills and work cohesively towards common objectives.
- A Challenge: Making Decisions: One aspect of the team-centric workplace that is still up for grabs is how to make decisions. Millennial leaders are going to have to develop a mature sense of their own vision and mission to deflect the many conflicting and empowered voices that will try to pull them in one direction or another.
If there’s a solution to the challenge of “too many chefs” in this new economy, perhaps it’s a renewed emphasis on making values-based leadership decisions.
- Beyond Profit – Purpose and Impact: Millennial leaders are widely perceived as driven by a greater sense of purpose and empathy. In a world facing existential cultural and climate disruptions, they understand the need to set business goals that are not just profit-centric but also have a broader societal impact. Witness the rise of ESG investing (and the blowback from older, traditional voices) as an example of this shift.
- Authenticity and Transparency: It’s hard to keep things hidden in the digital age. By embracing authenticity and transparency as values, millennial leaders who have integrity are more likely to elicit loyalty, support, and devotion from their team members and peers. It’s a challenging line to tread, but it sets a gold standard for management behavior at a time when every decision is potentially scrutinized, and a bad decision can go viral.
Reach Out: Build a Meaningful Relationship with Your Millennial Manager
Unless you’ve been working away in a garret somewhere, you’re probably very used to working with millennials. Some of you may have already dived in and embraced the management style and common practices of millennial leaders. However, for those of you still on the sidelines, or still holding out some skepticism, consider the following checklist of practices you may want to adopt.
We’re All in This Together
- Mutual Learning: In today’s world, education is life-long. One of the most important attitudes you can adopt, regardless of which generation is running the show, is to be a life-long learner. Your college degree is a long time ago and the world has changed many times in the interim. To stay relevant (and employable) adopt a beginner’s mind. Be curious and reach out to your younger colleagues for insight about where you should be focusing and what you should be learning. And by the way, they’re also going to be interested in some of the hard-won insight that you can provide them. PRO TIP: lead with a question, not a pronouncement. No one wants to hear your war stories.
- Shared Goals: Make it a habit to look for areas where your goals, values, and approaches actually overlap with your younger colleagues, including and especially your younger manager. They may not initiate this observation, but you should. It’s a great way to demonstrate your openness and find common ground. What a great key to establishing long-lasting and productive working relationships!
Mentorship and Reverse Mentorship:
- Traditional Mentorship: There’s no question that with your years of experience, you have much to share. And your millennial manager may recognize your value as a mentor before you do. Handled correctly, this can be one of the prime value-adds in your current role. Approach your mentoring as an extra-curricular activity. Don’t expect to get points for offering to mentor others. Just do it because you believe in it – and because you know that it’s a great way to develop closer professional relationships with your mentees.
- Reverse Mentorship: As part of your life-long learner mindset, reach out (and even geek out) for opportunities to learn from your younger colleagues. There’s no shame in not knowing something. And there’s something disarming and engaging about enthusiastically wanting to learn something new. PRO TIP: Don’t engage in reverse mentoring as a confirmation of what you think you already know. Just because you think you’re an expert in one area doesn’t mean you can’t learn more from people who approach your field with a new perspective. If you’re going to be truly courageous in your reverse mentoring, let younger colleagues show you where your blindspots are!
Communication and Alignment:
- Stay On Top of It: Communication channels and modalities can be a sh*tshow. Few of us have mastered the nuances of effectively utilizing all of the communication tools at our disposal. When is text better than email or an old-fashioned phone call? What does it mean to leave your camera off on a video call? As a (generally) more experienced communicator, look for the most effective tool for the conversation you want or need to have. Read up on the many theories on this topic: did you know that according to a Stanford study, hiding your self-view on Zoom can decrease so-called “Zoom fatigue?”
- Setting Clear Expectations: Be flexible and willing to accommodate different communication styles, especially with your manager. Make sure to sync your communication preferences upfront when you start working with them. This includes hours you’re available and preferred messaging platforms.
- Setting the Bar: Another virtue of your years of experience will be that you understand the pitfalls of ineffective and incomplete communication. But don’t dictate. Emulate. Instead of insisting on a particular protocol (e.g.: always acknowledge an email, or identify yourself on a first text message), model the behavior you want others to follow. They’re smart: they’ll get the message.
Be a Servant Leader
- An Expansive Attitude: You don’t have to prove your worth. Don’t let your ego derail you in this most wise and most strategic phase of your career. Be generous with your praise and support for your colleagues. Be their cheerleader (but don’t be their parent or aunt/uncle). Take time to reflect on what you are achieving in the workplace beyond the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of your job description.
- Feedback and Recognition: Yes, you may have twice as many years in the workforce as your younger manager. But respect their position and pledge your support. They’re likely well-suited to their responsibilities and if they’re smart they’ll recognize that you can be of tremendous help. Offer your views and insights without an agenda. If they take your feedback and acknowledge you for positive outcomes, great. If you give them bad advice, be prepared to accept responsibility if things go south.
Building a relationship with your millennial manager is a personal and professional growth opportunity. Embrace your differences, define and build towards shared goals, and keep your communication open, even under difficult circumstances.
Your Playbook: Be Proactive
Don’t expect or look for your manager to tell you what to do. After all, you’ve got all this experience under your belt: you should be the one to know what you’re supposed to do. Overall, younger professionals are going to expect older professionals to have things figured out. So don’t disappoint them. Take every opportunity to offer constructive feedback, suggestions, and strategies. Offer to go the extra mile to research, prototype, or lead an ad-hoc “agile” team to discover the way forward.
Some Next Actions To Consider:
- Initiate a conversation about a topic, opportunity, or project that’s been lingering in your mind but that you haven’t figured out how to broach with your manager.
- Sign up for a course, professional development program, or certification program to learn new skills or update your expertise.
- Seek feedback, and not just from your manager. Get used to asking colleagues to share their feedback and suggestions for how you can perform better or learn more. Turning this into an everyday habit will build better relationships and enhance your reputation as a trusted colleague.
- Initiate a mentoring relationship with a colleague. It doesn’t have to be a formal offer or a regular check-in at the beginning. Just take the initiative and see what develops.
- Start a “curiosity project.” Choose a work or company-related topic that you would genuinely like to learn more about. Do it for you, not because you want to look good or curry favor. See where it leads, what you learn, and how it might eventually circle back and apply to your work.