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Team-Building: Working With Millennials, Part 1
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Team-Building: Working With Millennials, Part 1 - Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: Working With Millennials, Part 1

Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: Working With Millennials, Part 1

You probably don’t want every player on the football team to be a quarterback, every chef in the kitchen to be a saucier, or every musician in the orchestra to be a flautist, not when there are so many talented running backs, pastry chefs, and cellists with something great to contribute. The eldest of the Millennial generation (loosely defined as those born between the early 1980s and the first few years of the 2000s) have hit their early thirties and have begun to make their way into the upper tiers of the working world, and you’ve probably noticed that they bring with them a different worldview, a different set of values, and different talents and abilities. The first generation to grow up surrounded by computers and cell phones, the Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are often labeled by Boomers and Gen Xers as “entitled” and “spoiled,” with unreasonable expectations and inflated senses of self-confidence. If the labels are accurate, it could be difficult to find good leadership for your upper-level teams. Yet with the many talents Millennials have to offer, it shouldn’t be difficult at all.

Millennials seem universally to be characterized as having a sense of entitlement, having grown up in a world where every kid on the soccer team earned a trophy, where safety issues meant being driven by parents to every outing and activity, and where “average” in school meant “not good enough for my kid.” In You Raised Us—Now Work With Us: Millennials, Career Success, and Building Strong Workplace Teams (American Bar Association, 2014), author Lauren Stiller Rikleen shares stories of young Millennials showing up for job interviews accompanied by their mothers, or college applicants’ parents making calls to admissions officers on their children’s behalf, often without the applicants’ knowledge. The perception is that because of their helicopter parents, Millennials expect good things to be handed to them simply because they deserve them.

Rikleen shares the results of an extensive survey she conducted of over 1,000 Millennials, 40% of whom were students. Their responses to the label of entitlement break down into three general rebuttals:

  • Every generation reaps the benefits provided by the generations that came before. Millennials are more entitled than the Gen Xers who came before them, but Gen Xers are more entitled than the Boomers before them, who are more entitled than the Silent Generation before them. The world is getting better, safer, and easier to live in with each successive generation. In this way, it is inevitable that younger employees would seem to take for granted what their parents worked so hard to attain.
  • Millennials may concede that they expect great opportunities, but they are willing to work very hard once given them. Young adults’ sense of entitlement, combined with their seemingly eternal optimism, make it look like they expect bigger chances than they deserve, but they don’t expect to be handed everything without earning it.
  • Many Millennials who acknowledge that their generation is overflowing with entitlement, add “…but that’s not me.” They see their peers as expecting too much, then offer reasons for their not being the same way.

Whether generalizations by Boomers and Gen Xers are accurate or the defenses offered by Millennials are sound is impossible to say. This is the danger with generalizations: while there is usually some basis for truth, humans are not simple enough to be characterized by a few representative perceptions. Factors such as socio-economic background and even birth order, valid in generations past, remain valid today and also contribute to the worldview and work ethic of a young adult.

How the executive responds to the challenges offered by Millennials in assembling a team can be critical. On one hand, leadership positions can be offered only to those Millennials who demonstrate the most Boomer-like or Gen-Xer-like qualities. A team built this way gets the benefits of youth without the mysterious obstacles of entitlement or over-confidence. Yet this seems like an eleven-quarterbacks-on-the-field or five-sauciers-in-the-kitchen approach, only with a couple of younger quarterbacks and sauciers. On the other hand, Millennials bring technological savvy and are eager to collaborate, a result of the very everyone-on-the-team-contributes rearing that many older generations scoff at. They tend also to be more inclusive, and have a better understanding of different cultures and abilities than those who came before them. While they may appear to need praise and encouragement with frustrating frequency, they also welcome the advice of mentors and role models, unlike the stereotypical Gen Xer, who was babysat by the television and values independence.

Then there is the fact that the world is changing, and that Millennials, while often maddening in myriad ways, are better prepared for it and can better navigate it. Add to that the fact that they aren’t disappearing anytime soon, with half of them still in high-school or college, and it seems most prudent to understand them and capitalize on all they offer


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Team-Building: Working With Millennials, Part 1 - Executive Leadership Articles

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