Engage millennials in workplace by coaching


An article published in Newsweek a while back addressed leading and managing a new generation. Newcomers to the workforce were described as being pampered, and not respectful of their elders. The article called them narcissistic, and not prepared to face the hardships of life.

Were they truly unwilling to invest “sweat equity” to pay their dues? Would you be surprised to learn Newsweek published this article almost 30 years ago? Or how about that the article’s author was actually Aristotle? Yes, that Aristotle!

In 2015 Goldman Sachs’ “Our Thinking” commented on our current model of newcomers to the work force, the millennials. “They are a different world, a different worldview. Millennials have grown up in a time of rapid change, giving them a set of priorities and expectations sharply different from previous generations. With less to spend, they’re putting off commitments like marriage and children. But that doesn’t mean they want to stay single forever.”

In my own life experience I recall a conversation with my father on a visit that occurred 15 years after I had ventured from the old country searching for an opportunity to be relevant. He shared that making a difference had been his dream as a young man. But the economic ravages of the WW2 made that impossible. He thought the circumstances for the 20-year-old me were different and he had encouraged me to pursue my dreams.

Connecting these dots suggests that history repeats itself mostly because it’s written by and acted out by humans. The moral of this part of the story might be that labels are almost strictly derived from appearances, rather than on insights. Insights will likely vote in favor of basic human needs. My exposure to millennials, in a university environment, suggests that what motivates them is recognition, the need to be relevant, and the value of relationships. They are concerned about tangible, pervasive uncertainty, all of which is fertile ground for a leadership intervention.

But in an effort to protect the individual, are we in effect taking away individuality? We seem obsessed with establishing an endless number of classifications into which we neatly fit all sorts of characteristics or behaviors. While this process might possibly serve a socially relevant purpose, in effect it creates labels that force a categorization unrelated to unique characteristics that define the individual not the category that he/she has been relegated to.

So, how does all this relate to coaching the millennial generation? The founding philosophy of the Barowsky School of Business’ Executive Education programs defines leadership as the ability to “Create clarity where there is uncertainty, align people to a common purpose where there is no focus, and deliver value where there is mediocrity.”

I read something recently that I thought was right on target about managing millennials. It advocated:

1. Hire young.

2. Train and educate them well.

3. Give every youth ample wiggle-room to succeed and fail, early and often.

4. Monitor their aptitude, readiness and wisdom to lead others.

Too often the leader’s label, especially in organizations, is synonymous with top management, or the persons that, in light of their positions should be expected to lead the organization. But there are leaders everywhere in need of development, they are young, they are old, they are of different colors, different origins, and of different genders. Each day the opportunity arises for all those that wish to lead to move away from the easy labels and to take the time to be interested, not interesting.

The need for leaders at the middle and lower levels of an organization is very present given the ever increasing uncertainty. Millennials seem to want what most non-millennials wished for but could not pursue because of circumstances.

One of the truly helpful, valid (for the purpose of gaining relevance) trends in organizations (and in families I would suggest), is for leaders to be truly effective coaches. Learning and appealing to people’s real motivators will enable the leader to benefit from their maximized potentials. Challenges, successes, failures, feedback and authentic conversations will help millennials (and everyone else) to thrive and be all they can be.

Becoming a coach (not merely a mentor) should be a key role for those wishing to lead, wishing to be interested rather than be interesting.

Franco Vicino (franco.vicino@dominican.edu, dominican.edu/execed) is executive education director at Dominican’s Barowsky School of Business.