Leading Today’s Future Managers:
Be The Coach, Not The Boss

By Tomilee Tilley Gill, President 

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Corporate executives are challenged to mentor, attract, retain and promote future managers who are profoundly different from any they have previously worked with.

These up-and-comers are the “Y” Generation or “The Millennials”. Born after 1980 and now in their 20s and early 30s, they are the first generation to come of age in the new Millennium.

They are highly educated, technologically adept, and potentially the most productive employees in your organization. However, managing and grooming them to move into positions of greater responsibility can be a daunting challenge.

This is because Millennials are distinctly different from their predecessors:  “Generation X” born between 1965 and 1980, now well into their careers; and “Baby Boomers”, born after World War II, who are approaching retirement age.

Each of these generations was shaped by the circumstances and culture in which they grew up. For “Boomers”, childhood and adolescence was a time of economic growth and stable family life. Boomers typically entered the workforce in low- level roles, working their way up the corporate ladder.

“Gen Xers” grew up in a time of cultural turmoil – the sexual revolution, space exploration, questioning “the old ways” of doing everything. “Gen X” entered the workforce during a robust economy fueled by a technology boom.

Companies looking for whiz kids who understood the new technologies offered them high levels of responsibility and hefty salaries before they had any real work experience. When the technology bubble burst in 2001, many Gen Xers were unable to secure equivalent positions.

Generation Y, the Millennials, are significantly different than the generations that preceded them. They are more ethnically diverse; about 61% are Caucasian, compared to 70% for those 30 and older. About 14% are Black, and 19% Hispanic, compared to 11% and 13%, respectively, for those over 30.

They are the first “always connected” generation of Americans. Living in a milieu of digital technology, social media, texting, emails, electronic games, Twitter and Facebook, they are more comfortable with technology than their managers.

They are inveterate multitaskers; talking on the phone while surfing the Web and sending a text. This can boost productivity, but may be disconcerting to a supervisor, especially if it’s during a meeting.

Accustomed to sharing ideas openly, they are likely to become frustrated by rigid communication policies that require memos to go up the chain of command. Millennials also tend to be team players, optimistic, confident, trusting of authority, achievement-oriented and willing to play by the rules.

Having grown up among kids from diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, single-parent homes, blended families and same-sex parents, they are far more egalitarian than their predecessors.

They have a different perspective on the workplace than their predecessors. Their parents may have been abruptly laid off by corporations that had espoused loyalty between company and employee. Gen Y has seen that hard work and a good education are no safeguards against joblessness.

Millennials often value the group’s performance over their individual achievement. They are likely to perform best when you let them see the larger goal, and how their activity is important to achieving it.

Let them contribute. They expect to be allowed to make a suggestion. Because they are bright, and see things from a different perspective than yours, there’s a good chance their ideas are worth considering.

Be prepared for their insistence on a reasonable work-life balance. They want to work hard, but not at the expense of family and social life, sports and hanging with their friends.

Motivating this generation of future managers requires today’s leaders to coach rather than dictate. But in return you will be adding to your team energetic, productive, educated and technologically proficient employees who represent the future of Corporate America.