Everyone is talking about “connecting with millennials” as if leading them is some mystery, or human nature has suddenly shifted into the unknown with this new crop of adults.
Google how to lead or connect with them and you’ll find that just about every business website or magazine has something to say. It’s an important topic, because the millennial generation, who was born between 1982 and 2000, are about 83.1 million strong, according to the Census Bureau. For perspective, the baby boomers, who outnumbered every generation before them, have just 75.4 million.
The tips on connecting with this new wave of workers range from the obvious to the outrageous, and reading more than two or three of the tips makes me just a little bit twitchy.
Look, yes, millennials have a different outlook than Gen Xers and baby boomers. These are people who have most likely never seen black-and-white TV and many of them got their first cellphone in middle school. Tattoos are the norm for them, and some of them have pierced things I don’t even want to know about.
But at their core, they want what everyone else wants: They want to be happy, and they want to be around people who are authentic. They want their lives to mean something and they want to make a difference. Honestly, every generation thinks that they are totally different from all generations before them. The reality is, humans are humans. We have the same fears and the same doubts, but also similar dreams and similar desires.
So if you want to connect with someone from the millennial generation, be authentic. These are people who don’t remember a world where movies didn’t have a product line with action figures and its very own version of Monopoly. Being authentic means that you’re not trying to sell them something—you’re trying to meet a need they have, like the needs to make a difference and be happy.
For millennials, most became adults as the impact of the financial crisis of 2008 was at its peak. As they graduated into the world, “good” jobs were scarce and student debt abundant. Because of this, they have less trust in institutions, particularly corporations and Wall Street. But this experience also causes them to be much more entrepreneurial.
We must be empathetic and stop calling millennials lazy. Both of my sons are millennials. Most of their friends graduated college and now are working full-time jobs. But at the ages when baby boomers and Gen Xers were buying homes and beginning their families, this generation is wrestling with the reality of trying to lay a financial foundation. They worked hard in college and they’re working hard now, but many of them just aren’t making an income that allows them to follow what was a traditional path for their parents and grandparents.
Authenticity and empathy are basic leadership traits. They each help people to first trust and then like you. Very few people will follow someone they don’t trust and like, so millennials won’t, either.
Over the next five to 10 years, we’ll see the continued influx of this generation into the workforce, and as long as you’ll remember to continue to hone your leadership skills, offering them authentic and empathetic interaction as you help them move toward their goals, you’ll find that they’re a great source of creativity and energy for your team.