I was at a conference recently and found myself in a deep conversation with a few of my fellow attendees about millennial leadership/ millennials in the workplace. You’re shocked, right? Who isn’t talking about this? It seems like we talk about it way too much!
It was during this conversation that someone made a comment about how they regularly find themselves trying to learn more about millennials in the workplace, but every speaker and writer she comes across is from a different generation. This got her thinking about the gap in this scenario: Why aren’t we getting advice 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 leadership 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, because if you haven’t caught on yet, I am a millennial leader.
1. Put Your Earmuffs on
Stop complaining about the noise around you and feeling sorry for yourself. People are going to judge you. They’re going to make unjustified remarks and rattle off negative traits (lazy, entitled, narcissistic, etc.) about your generation and somehow, define you by a ridiculous stereotype. 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. Ignore them — what you tell yourself is all that matters.
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 contrarian ideas. Use this new-found perspective as your competitive advantage.
There is so much hatred and manipulation in the workforce (and the world), but if you can reach above it, you’ll come out ahead. 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 hesitations. Help everyone play nice in the sandbox.
When your team reaches that point of working well together, recognize them for it! Never forget to recognize and reward people both individually and as a team. Always ensure the recognition is genuine and meaningful. Not everyone should get a trophy just for showing up; that takes away from your strongest performers.
3. Don’t Give up or Give in
As a leader, particularly a millennial leader, you will face scrutiny, resistance, distrust, and 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 your healthcare organization’s values do not align with your own, you are working in the wrong place.
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 doubt you already — prove them wrong.
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 want to be successful, don’t give up on yourself or others — and don’t succumb to the pressure or the fear.
4. Always Fail Forward, Never Fail Back
Accept that you will fail (yes, you). It’s going to happen, so get comfortable with failing. Don’t look at it 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 do NOT let it weigh you down.
Yes, some people might even thrive in the fact that you failed, but don’t waste time thinking about that. Use your precious time and effort focused on the next great idea, the next big project, or the next organizational initiative. Show everyone how your failures make you stronger.
5. Be Willing to Stand Alone
In leadership, everyone is watching you. As a millennial, you are likely to face even more scrutiny. So, you have to be doing the all of the right things, all of the time. And yes, this includes the difficult things; making unpopular decisions, letting poor performers go, challenging the status quo, disagreeing with your superiors, etc..
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 be an extremely lonely place. You are always 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 when 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 will rarely have to. Your 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 leader that your team believes in, they will stop seeing you as a “millennial leader.” They will see you simply as their leader, someone they admire, trust, and support.
Loyalty is not dead, but it definitely requires effort.