The Millennial Manager: Succeeding as a Leader in a Multi-Generation Workforce

happy diverse female coworkers giving high five after successful deal

We are working in a very unique era where there are 4-5 different generations in the workforce at one time. Of those generations, Millennials (Gen Y) actually make up for over one third of the US workplace population, often leading teams composed of both Boomers and Gen Z. As a manager myself,. I am actually younger than all of my reports, but I take extreme pride in having built a purpose-led and trusting team that contributes to an overall mission.

Even with prior management experience, the people you lead are not the same and thus management is a trial and error kind of game. Everyone learns and works differently, which makes everything a lot harder. Throughout the course of your career, you’ll pick up on the “do’s and don’ts” of leadership based on the managers that you’ve had in your own roles. If you’re anything like me, you’ve had a handful of great leaders compared to the multitude of bad leadership experiences you’ve had. If you are a new manager, or still learning the ropes of your current leadership role, here are a few tips based on my experience that have helped me build one of the best teams in my career so far! 

Establish Trust. Showing up for your team is a must. Especially in the time of remote work, this is going to be one of the most important steps in setting a solid foundation. Showing up means that you’ve created an environment where they can reach out to you for help if needed, help them complete something they are struggling with, be a listening ear, and really “walk the talk.” This might look like stepping in to complete tasks that have been delegated out in an effort to help out the team, even as a manager. Establishing trust also means you are looking out for their interests, and ultimately providing opportunities for them to enhance their skills and flourish. If you do not have a consistent one on one time scheduled, it’s time to do so! 

Create team goals and a shared purpose. Having specific goals for your team will ensure alignment amongst the team members and reduce any role ambiguity or conflicts that may arise due to differing expectations. You’ll also instill motivation, collaboration, and accountability that will make sure everyone is contributing to the same overall mission. It will help even more to consistently remind all what the overall purpose is because sometimes the task at hand is so monotonous or grueling it becomes difficult for anyone to remember what it’s all for.

Be as transparent and open as possible. One of the hardest parts of being a people manager is oftentimes not having control over certain business decisions. There will be moments that the team may be unhappy with the direction the company is going or may not understand the “why” behind a certain task. Your role here is to listen and guide your reports on how to best move forward with change. You will also need to be open with your team when divvying out less attractive tasks. I, for one, always need to know why I am doing something and how it helps the overall customer experience in my role. 

Be confident. It is no lie when it’s said that confidence is key. Even if you have no idea what you’re doing, or if you’re even doing it right, just be confident. Trust your instinct, and if it was wrong, it’s a learning mistake. Whoever gave you this position trusted you enough to be able to figure it out. There’s not a handbook for everything you’ll encounter on the job, and coming to terms with that will allow you to fall forward and not back. Confidence can also be owning any mistakes as this will show your reports that it’s okay to fail. 

Remembering that you can’t be everyone’s friend. Sad, but true. Not everyone will be on board 100% of the time when you delegate something. It is impossible to please everyone, and this is why having shared team goals and a purpose is so important. An important tip is to give and take and try to understand everyone’s role and the best way for everyone to work together.

Reward yourself. Leading a team can equally be one of the best accomplishments of your career if you do it right. I genuinely love getting my team together (even in a virtual huddle) because we’re all committed to helping each other, and figuring out ways to make the team and our processes better than the day before.  You’re going to have good days on the job and you’re most definitely going to have bad days. Either way, leadership is no small task.

Take the time to understand everyone’s journey. Another important piece to remember is that every report you have will learn and adapt differently. Some will require multiple demonstrations, whereas others might be okay with just being thrown into the fire. Personally, I like a mixture of visuals and learning on the job. When you put these all into thought and practice, you’ll see how each of the above are an extension of each other. You can’t provide transparency without understanding the business mission/purpose; you can’t create trust unless you consistently show that you have your team’s back.

In the words of Stephen Covey, “what you do has far greater impact than what you say.” Just remember, you got this!

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