The Accelerated Millennial Manager

By Ladan Nikravan

Today’s fast-paced world means you have to embrace speed, or you’re at the risk of falling behind. According to British psychologist Richard Wiseman, the overall pace of life has increased by 10 percent worldwide since the mid-90s. In a few places, it has even increased by 20 to 30 percent. In some ways this is good — we’re constantly innovating, collaborating, taking the next step — but in other ways, we’re missing out.

Last week, I was running late to meet a friend for brunch and found myself running for a cab, running out of the cab, running into the restaurant. When I got there, my friend asked me if I had remembered the coupon we were planning to use. No. Did I see them filming the movie outside the restaurant? No. Did my cab driver take Lakeshore Drive? I didn’t pay attention. The fast-track accelerates our lives, yes, but we could be missing fundamental moments along the way.

I reached out to Diane Thielfoldt, Devon Scheef and Taylor Fitzpatrick from The Learning Café to talk about the fast-paced business environment and how that’s affecting millennials. The Learning Café’s Accelerated Millennial Manager study, which was conducted from 2011-2013 based on data from 400 millennial managers, discusses the issue and how millennials are often missing key training steps by taking the fast-track to leadership. Just like I forgot the coupon and didn’t stop to notice a camera crew outside the restaurant, millennials could be missing key milestones as they race to the top.

Below are excerpts of our interview. Thielfoldt and Scheef are co-founders of The Learning Café; they’re boomers. Taylor Fitzpatrick is the “millennial voice” at the company, managing their content.

Q. What is it going to take to prepare millennials for leadership?

Scheef and Thielfoldt: Get in sync with their urgency and their needs. It’s going to take a shift in perceptions — millennials (and millennial managers) aren’t the “new kids on the block” anymore — they’re parents, politicians, community members.

It’s going to take more involved managers of future millennial managers. Millennial seek and appreciate directed coaching versus self-discovery. Frankly, they don’t always have something to self-discover related to new skills they’re trying for the first time. Their bosses should be very practical with “do this, not that and here’s why” style of advice.

Fitzpatrick: In many ways we [millennials] are already prepared (and eager) for leadership. We are confident, determined, committed … We understand the value of inspiring a team — versus dictating to one — and long for the opportunity to strut our stuff. We already possess what good leaders are made of — we just need a little direction. With clear expectations, consistent feedback, and coaching (or even better — mentoring) from our “elders,” we can help take any organization to the next level.

Q. What should learning leaders be doing to better support millennial managers?

Scheef and Thielfoldt:  Find action-packed, on-the-job, practice opportunities so they get a clear view of what managers really do — first-hand. Get them connected! Provide exposure to role-model leaders of all generations at all levels. Find opportunities to build millennial credibility before they assume management roles. For example, visible projects that help them develop influence and communication skills and give them the bigger picture. Millennial managers benefit from specificity and are grateful (not insulted) by directions, information and coaching on how to do things. Provide scripts or talk tracks — for example when giving feedback, write out what to say and how to say it.

Fitzpatrick: If they are not already, learning leaders must adapt the way essential material is presented. Gone is the way of the blackboard. Our generation is information hungry and won’t wait for a classroom to find our answers. If we are struggling, we turn to the most reliable source we know: Google. But Google is not all knowing when it comes to individual organizations. It is up to learning leaders to anticipate the questions their millennial managers will have, the struggles they will face, and then present the solutions in bite-sized chunks they can digest on their lunch break.

Q. What are some strengths that millennial managers have to offer?

Scheef and Thielfoldt:  In our research, there was widespread admiration for millennial managers’ ability to:

  • Deploy technology to help their teams work better, faster — not tech for tech’s sake; tech to improve efficiency.
  • Rapidly switch attention from task to task.
  • Seamlessly connect and network with team members at a personal level.
  • Flexibly change direction and flex plans without drama or nay-saying.
  • Create and innovate in collaboration with others.

Fitzpatrick: As the next generation of pillars within our organization, we do not take our job lightly. We recognize that success is not an independent achievement. It is every member of our team, working as hard as they can, that propels our organization forward. Our role is to motivate, inspire and connect on a personal level with each team member to ensure their job satisfaction leads to quality performance. We are genuinely invested in their individual success.

We also harness our understanding of technology and an “open-source” mindset to push the envelope of innovation and creative problem solving. We foster open-dialog environments and understand the next “big idea” may come from Chet in the mailroom, not necessarily our CEO. It is this inclusive mindset that helps us embrace diversity and break down the walls stereotypes create.

Q. What are some weaknesses? How can they be overcome?

Scheef and Thielfoldt:  Our research pointed out that both millennials and other generations identify millennial management challenges as:

Supervising and relating to older team members.
Other generations said: Be especially sensitive to being visible and available; prove you can work hard; ask questions and show yourself to be an active learner.

Making a transition to managing and executing on fundamental management skills (performance discussions and delegation for example).
Other generations said: Step up to tough conversations; get feedback on your feedback.

Productively dealing with hierarchy, bureaucracy and the status quo.
Other generations said: Millennial managers need coaching on the “why” and the business’s history. Connect them with successful change agents so they can see how to influence and get their ideas heard.

Fitzpatrick: We are a purpose-driven generation. Often viewed as “flaky” or “disloyal,” we will not invest our lives in something we do not believe in. That being said, if provided with a purpose we do believe in, there is nothing that can stop us.

We have an intentional disregard for “the way things have always been.” We often underestimate the time that has been spent crafting organizational approach to certain challenges as we are always seeking a better way to accomplish what is set before us. If you want to make the most of this drive, give us a challenge the company has long since struggled with and watch our creative wheels spin the perfect solution.

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