I was at a great conference recently and found myself in a deep conversation with some peers about millennials in the workplace. You’re shocked, right? Who isn’t talking about this? It actually seems like we talk about it way too much!
Someone made a comment about how they feel like there is a lack of perspective on this topic. She said that she constantly finds herself trying to learn about millennials but every speaker and writer she came across seemed to be of a different generation. It got her thinking about the gap in this picture – why aren’t we getting advice and hearing about millennials from actual millennials?
I’m not a speaker by trade but this is the exact reason I started doing speaking engagements. I get requested for thought forums, interviews and presentations on the topic of multiple generations in the workplace because I fill this gap. I am a millennial in the workplace.
One of the most popular questions I get is about what advice I have for millennial leaders. Many millennials, very much like generations before them believe it or not, are itching to get into leadership and sure, many probably think they should already be there. That annoys some people like there’s no tomorrow!
So, here’s my leadership advice for new and aspiring millennial leaders and if you haven’t caught on, I am a millennial leader.
1. Put Your Earmuffs On…Strategically
Stop complaining about the noise around you and feeling sorry for yourself. People are going to judge you. They are going to make unfair remarks about your generation and somehow, ridiculously define you by your generational stereotypes. Then, they will argue why you cannot and should not be in leadership because of it. People will always tell you that you are not capable. Go for it anyway. What you tell yourself is more important.
In the end, this stereotyping is just useless noise. Become familiar with this type of noise and learn when to put your earmuffs on. Getting sucked into it, being overly hurt by it (it always hurts a little), feeling sorry for yourself or retaliating with equally hurtful remarks will get you nowhere!
2. Play Nice In the Sandbox
So, they pick on you for your age. It does not mean you get to pick on them for their age. Don’t stoop to lower levels. As a leader, you have to be able to play nice with everyone – people from all walks of life, with diverse backgrounds and with different ideas. Use this as your competitive advantage.
There is so much drama, hate and manipulation not just in the workforce but in the world. If you can turn this around, you’ll be ahead of the curve. Bring people together; be a connector. Help people see their similarities despite their differences. Help people find solutions together despite their problems. Help people reach their potential despite their doubt. Help everyone play nice in the sandbox.
When your team reaches that point of working well together, recognize them. Don’t ever forget to recognize and reward people both individually and as a team. Just be sure it is genuine and meaningful. Everyone should not get an effort trophy; that takes away from your strongest performers.
3. Don’t Give Up or Give In: You’re In Sales
As a leader, particularly a millennial leader, you will face a lot of scrutiny, a lot of resistance or distrust and a lot of skepticism. It can become very easy to give up on yourself or give into the pressure. The way to overcome all of this is to do things you believe in and believe in everything you do. If an organization’s values does not align with yours, you are in the wrong place.
Every leader is a sales person. Millennials, you better start believing this. If you want buy-in and influence, you have to be able to sell your ideas, your initiatives and your changes. You absolutely cannot assume that if you suggest something that everyone will get behind it. Many people are doubting you already. Prove that you are worthy.
It may not seem fair but life is not always fair. You have to work extra hard to gain the trust of your team, especially if you have a diverse team that may not believe in you right away when you take over the team as the new leader. It’s even harder if you were a peer and got promoted into a leadership role. If you really want to be successful, don’t give up, on yourself or others, and don’t give into the pressure or the fear.
4. Always Fail Forward, Never Fail Back
You will fail so get a little comfortable with that. Don’t look at failure as a setback. Use it to your advantage every time it happens. Learn from it and let your lessons launch you forward. The weight on your shoulders will only get heavier every time you fail, but don’t let it weigh you down.
Yes, some people might even thrive in the fact that you failed. Don’t waste time thinking about that. Use your precious time and effort focused on the next great idea, project or initiative. Show everyone how your failures made you even stronger.
5. Be Willing to Stand Alone
In leadership, everyone is watching you. As a millennial, you are likely to have even more scrutiny. So, you have to be doing the right things all the time even if that means doing the difficult things – making unpopular decisions, letting poor performers go or challenging your superiors.
Like most things, the grass always looks green on the other side. Leadership often looks glamorous from the outside looking in but for those who are in it, you know it is not all roses. Leadership can actually be an extremely lonely place. You are constantly balancing the pressure of the people on your team with the pressure from your superiors and the two never seem to agree. It can feel like a lose-lose situation sometimes.
If you want to succeed in leadership, you have to be willing to stand alone. When it seems that everyone else wants to take the easy road or the right thing is not the popular thing, you have to make that tough call. Contrary to popular belief, if you’re willing to stand alone as a leader, you actually rarely have to. Your strongest employees will support you. People who believe in doing the right thing but who are too afraid to will follow you.
You may hope that people will not judge you by your generation but you cannot wish something like that away. All you can do is prove yourself. If you become a strong leader that your team trusts, they will stop seeing you as a “millennial leader.” They will see you simply as their leader, someone they trust and support.
Loyalty is not dead…but it requires effort.
Lotus is also on Instagram as odaadvocate, Snapchat as lotusyon and Periscope as lotus_yon.