Advice for Millennials Managing a Multigenerational Team

Much has been written about millennial workers — what they want and how management can provide it, but what about millennial leaders? How will millennials manage a multigenerational staff?

There’s not much data on this. As I searched and picked through what little I could find, I came across a human resources video that got me thinking about millennials and ageism. The video focused on millennials managing older workers. The speaker kidded about “grumpy old men” whose hobbies included “knitting and stamp collecting.” This got a big laugh from the audience, but I wondered if it wasn’t sending ageist messages:

  • Millennials are an elite group of youthful ambitious leaders. The rest of the workforce is old and tired.
  • Millennials need to tolerate these old codgers and their quirky habits.
  • Best way to manage is to patronize; offer a helping hand.

While this approach might appeal to some millennials, most will see the folly in stereotyping and condescending to their staff. Effective leadership —  whatever the age of the leader and followers — requires buy-in and mutual respect. This isn’t the way to get there.

So how do you get there? Millennial leaders seeking buy-in from workers who are older and more experienced need to go beyond labels and ageist generalities. Transparency, purpose and use of self are the keys. Here’s how to use them:

Transparency: This means being straightforward and honest as it concerns the working relationship. New leaders need to address: their age and relative inexperience (acknowledge this — don’t apologize), changes in policy and direction, job security. Basically anything that will affect the team. This demonstrates awareness and models direct interaction and confrontation. Let’s get things right out on the table so we’re all on the same page.

Purpose: Purpose is the end result you and your team want to achieve. Why should they follow you and what’s in it for them? You’ll need a clear and concise statement – where you want to go and how you intend to get there. When sharing with workers, tune in to what you see and reach for negatives: doubt, confusion, resistance. “Seems like you’re not buying this.” “You look confused.” Open the floor up for feedback and make adjustments. Modeling collaboration and flexibility goes a long way.

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Use of self: Know who you are and what you have to offer — both personally and professionally. Then determine what piece of that to share with your team and incorporate into your leadership. Sense of humor, empathy, willingness to admit mistakes and apologize — these qualities foster connection by demonstrating your humanity. The specifics of what you share depends on your comfort level and boundaries. Be clear on the difference between use of self (who you are) and self-disclosure (specific personal details about your life). Use of self establishes credibility and promotes trust; self-disclosure is fodder for gossip.

New millennial leaders who follow these guidelines will build strong relationships with their team, no matter the age or demographic. Focus on the individuals — not the age group. Create a culture of openness and inclusion and workers will tell you what they need and work with you to achieve it.