Millennials as Leaders? What About as Followers?

This article about how [Mill] will behave as CIOs misses the marks on pretty much every point. It describes how they are distrustful of big brands and tend to be risk-takers! Nothing could be further from the truth about Millennials. They tend to be very conservative in their life choices (they have been carefully guided at every stage since early childhood) and although they may not believe advertisers as much as [Boom] did, they definitely have a herd mentality to consumption.

Unfortunately the article is perpetuating several ideas about Millennials that are based on a “Generations X+1” idea. [Gen X] is known for being pragmatic individualists who are willing to take risks in an effort to survive. Many view Millennials as the same but more extreme, which is why they are sometimes called “Generation Y”. This entirely misses the true nature of generational cycles. Where X’ers are individualistic, Millennials are collectivistic. Where X’ers are cynical, Millennials are optimistic and hopeful. Where X’ers lack trust of institutions, Millennials are willing to work with and build institutions.

For example the article says:

“This is a generation that’s going to beg for forgiveness when something goes wrong but won’t ask for permission,” Thibodeaux says.

Um, no. Generation X’ers are the ones that will beg forgiveness instead of asking permission. Many managers can attest to the fact that Millennials are in their office all the time asking if they are doing things right! They are not risk-takers and they are not rule-breakers.

I can see how Gen X’ers and Boomers can get confused by the behavior of Millennials. Just because a Millennial does not get swayed by advertising does not mean they are an independent thinker. It just means they trust a different source: Their massive circle of online “friends” who influence every decision they make.

The final thing that is misguided about the article is that they are speculating on how Mills will behave when they are executives. Sorry guys, but that is a long ways off and we should be focusing our efforts on understanding how Millennials are as followers right now instead of how they will be as leaders 10-20 years from now. Most organizations are miserable at managing Millennials and believe that this generation is full of job-hoppers who will be even more mercenary than Gen X’ers were. Nothing could be further from the truth.

4 thoughts on “Millennials as Leaders? What About as Followers?”

  1. Interesting read. Way to go against the grain when it comes to others’ perception of Millennials. How very Gen X of you 🙂

    I don’t disagree with everything you said. However, I do want to point out two segments that differentiate the first and second half of the Millennial generation. The first half (born 1982-1993) essentially grew with the rise of the Internet. They evolved as the Internet did. This gave them key insight into how technology operates, how its used, and how it could be improved. To me, those are the Millennials described as innovators and individual thinkers. Obvious example: Mark Z.

    The 2nd half of this generation was born when the Internet already existed. They don’t know a time when the Internet didn’t exist, wasn’t as fast, and didn’t have as many “apps”. “What’s dial-up?”, one might ask. I think this half represents the type of Millennial you describe as collective. Both their real-world and online reputation rests solely on how many friends, likes, or +1s they receive.

  2. @Carl – It is good to differentiate between the first and second half of Mills. I do definitely believe that there are differences between these groups (my kids are in the second group). But I still believe that both groups are much more collective than either Gen X’ers and Boomers, even if the first half are more entrepreneurial than the latter half. I work with quite a few Mills from the first half and they are much more willing to work in teams in a collective manner than Gen X’er were (or ever will be).

    I do like the differentiation of the experience of the Internet that you point out. The first half have more possibility of being makers while the second half are more likely just users.

  3. Thank you for this! So many analyses I see of Millenials in the workplace are soooooo far off that I can’t help but groan as soon as I see the topic being broached. I can’t speak for all Millenials of course, but the idea that we’re “jobhoppers” or “ungrateful” often goes back to the fact that our employers don’t take care of us the way previous generations experienced. For an entry-level employee in the 1960s or even 1980s, they may have had to work unbelievably hard and deal with a strict hierarchy, but they also received good benefits, a living wage, and the prestige that comes with being part of a trusted (and trustworthy) company. With how corporatized and cold most employers have become, we feel alienated from the mainstream economy not because we’re rebellious or individualistic, but rather because we long for that sense of family, belonging, and collective can-do attitude that seems so hard to find today.

    I’m currently in the process of starting my own business, and I’m terrified, but I’m also optimistic because I believe that the right values can create security and success, and I’m hoping that by demonstrating my skills I can attract like-minded and sincere people to work alongside me – people who actually care about the work that we do and the community we’re building.

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