A Research Paper By Dennis Carpio, Executive Coach, AUSTRALIA
Who Are Millennial Leaders?
A millennial generation or Generation Y (or simply Gen Y) is typically born between 1981 to 1994. For comparison, Generation X was born between 1965 and 1980, while Generation Z was born between 1995 and 2002 (BAKO, 2018).
This paper focuses on millennial leaders – those who are experienced in leading a group of teams to achieve a goal or are leading an organization. We will cover attributes that make them similar or different from other generational cohorts or groups. Among millennials, we will mention relevant cultural and regional factors influencing their beliefs, behaviors, and tendencies (Rao, 2017).
Why millennials? Millennials are taking up a big slice of the workforce population within the next five years. A study conducted by PwC Australia estimates that millennials will represent up to 75% of the workforce by 2025 (Hamer, 2020). Therefore, it is in the interest of coaching professionals to get to know the millennials a little better to provide the best possible coaching experience and outcomes to their millennial clients.
A one-size-fits-all approach to coaching leaders belonging to different generational categories does not work. Not knowing the generational variations in beliefs and behaviors could distinguish great from mediocre coaching outcomes. This paper aims to suggest practical coaching approaches and methods for millennial business leaders.
In What Way Are Generation Groups Similar and Different?
Millennials Are Born Leaders
A study shows that 61% of millennials across the globe aspire to become a leader, like Gen Z-ers (also 61%) and slightly higher than Gen X-ers, of which only 57% aspire to a leadership role (Rao, 2017).
The reasons why millennials want to become a leader varies by region.
From Figure 1, the chart shows that high future earnings are the primary factors for millennials in Europe and Asia-Pacific, while the opportunity to influence ranks first in Africa, Latin America, Western Europe, and North America. Only half of the respondents in Asia-Pacific see an opportunity to influence others and the organization as a reason for wanting to become a leader (Bresman, 2015).
Across genders, there is minimal difference in preference for becoming a leader between male and female millennials, with 63% and 61% responding with a desire to become a leader, respectively. Among female respondents, millennials and gen X-ers expressed a stronger desire for a leadership role than generation Z women, whose main passion is to gain higher responsibilities. Males across all generations were more interested in future earnings and high levels of responsibility (Rao, 2017).
Millennials Strive for Work-Life Balance
Equally, Millennials want to achieve work-life balance, which is their primary worry about taking on more responsibilities at the workplace, especially in countries like the United States, Switzerland, and Finland; a concern they share with Gen-Xers globally (Rao, 2017).
What does work-life balance mean for millennials? It means more leisure time for their private life ranks first for millennials across the globe, followed by flexible working hours, recognition, flexible working conditions, and convenient work location (Bresman, 2015). Bresman (2015) also noted that regionally there is some contrast. Many Asian millennials value social connections more than their Western counterparts. Asian millennials rely more on family and friends for support.
Millennials Seek New Ways of Working
Millennials tend to diverge from traditional management styles and corporate cultures before their generation (Gurgiel & Allaway, 2019).
Millennials Rely on Technology
Millennials ushered in the digital revolution. They are more techno-savvy relative to Gen X-ers. They grew up with the internet and experienced the rise and evolution of social media and handheld devices, which they prefer to use for communication.
Millennials Are Purpose-Driven
Millennials thrive on collaboration, teamwork, and helping the greater good. They are motivated by meaningful work that aligns with their values and beliefs(Schooley, 2020). Millennials ride the “Start with Why” wave popularized by Simon Sinek through his keynote talks and publications. Sinek suggests that making people understand the purpose of your mission or product is a better way to command loyalty from customers and employees (Sinek, 2011). This tendency of millennials to focus on the “why” – the big picture – could sometimes lead millennials to lose sight of important details and struggle to be present in the here and now.
When it comes to people leadership, millennials value employee empowerment, servant leadership over technical expertise, transparent performance evaluation, role models, and goal-oriented work (Bresman, 2015).
Driven by a strong sense of purpose and volition, most of my millennial clients emphasize the importance of having autonomy and a sense of meaning in their roles.
Millennial Leaders Coaching Considerations
As an executive coach, most of my clients were millennial leaders in the past couple of years, and I have observed the above behaviors and could attest to the research that resonates with my coaching practice.
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”(ICF-CF, 2021). This definition could not be more apt for millennial clients who are all about maximizing their full potential.
So how can coaches leverage the above knowledge to effectively partner with millennial leaders toward their goal of achieving personal and professional growth? Below are five principles and approaches that are proven to help coach millennial leaders.
Reflect on Meaning and Values
Meet one of my clients we will call Libby (not her real name), a 32-year-old senior manager at an investment firm I have been coaching for almost a year now. Libby is one of those high-achieving individual contributors driven by passion and ambition to be the best at what they do and a newly appointed people manager of a team of five. She wanted to get coaching on transitioning to this new role and learn the skillsets needed to become an influential people manager.
A sense of purpose and values motivate most millennials. Values are the principles that help a person decide what is right and wrong and how to act in various situations (Cambridge University Press, 2021).
Through my coaching conversations with Libby, it became clear that her core values, such as the desire for excellence and unwavering integrity, influence most of her decisions and views. I used this as a focal point to help Libby become more aware of what is important to her, which made her realize how her values influence her beliefs, emotions, and decisions. This process also made Libby conscious that her direct reports have similar or different values and beliefs. To lead them better, she realized it is her job to know her direct reports better and identify what is truly meaningful to them.
For example, job flexibility and work-life balance are Libby’s top concerns – both of which are the top priorities of millennials(Deloitte, 2016). Her younger direct reports might place more weight on job stability and financial rewards – needs that are consistent with Generation Z cohorts (Schooley, 2020).
The following coaching questions could help identify the client’s beliefs and values:
- After noticing the shifts in the client’s emotional state and body language, you may ask, “I noticed a shift in your emotion/posture/energy when you spoke about this topic. What was happening there?”
- When observing peak emotions over a topic, ask, “what made this moment/topic significant to you?”
- “What is more important for you in here?” or prioritize the success of outcomes by asking, “what does success look like to you?”
- To further probe for significance and meaning, ask, “what would losing/not achieving this mean to you?”
The coach should not shy away from expressing their values to the client(Thompson, 2017), which is undoubtedly true when coaching millennial leaders. In my experience as a coach, sharing my values and passion with my millennial clients helps build trust and strengthens my relationship with them.
Frame Hurdle as a Challenge and Let Them Figure It Out
Millennials are hungry for training and development. They respond better when viewing something as they need to figure out and develop themselves instead of focusing on the issues and difficulties (Gurgiel & Allaway, 2019). In figuring out a way forward, millennials work best when they have volition over their actions. Allow them to think freely instead of telling them what to do (Berger, 2019).
In my coaching practice, I often get asked by millennials for a solution to their problems, wanting to rely on my expert knowledge of the subject matter for a quick fix. I try my best not to fall into that trap. Instead, I switch to exploratory conversations.
I ask, “while I do have some ideas, what options do you see?”
The client is creative, resourceful, and whole(Elsey, 2017). Giving advice does not work in coaching, especially with millennials – they almost always do not take it and follow through. As their coach, your job is to guide them in their thinking process and lead them towards a solution they formed themselves.
Unleash Their Creative and Innovative Nature
Driven by their higher purpose, millennial leaders love to think big and think long term. Their diverse personal and professional experiences enable them to think of creative solutions to problems. Their experience with technology platforms honed their inventive nature (Berger, 2019).
As a coach, I learned that my job in this process is to partner with the client in exploring ideas and highlighting potential gaps in their thinking and not to lead or direct them towards my solutions. Here are some questions that coaches can use to help their clients think more creatively:
- What is the most challenging aspect of this situation/idea for you?
- What else could be true or possible?
- What do you think is the hardest step to take?
- How do you feel about these options?
- How did you manage to solve something similar in the past?
- What have you not considered yet?
Millennial leaders rode the wave of digital social interactions. As the cohort believes in living a purposeful and meaningful life, millennials use social media platforms to broadcast their love for their passions and gain a sense of relatedness on a global scale. How they are perceived in public drives the millennial’s decisions, choices, and behaviors (Gurgiel & Allaway, 2019).
The coach could leverage technology with millennials in two ways:
(a) in probing and understanding underlying biases, motivating factors, and perceptions, whether the client is responding to an external trigger that is anchored against their public persona as portrayed in social media, and therefore consider options to reframe their perspectives towards an empowering alternative, and
(b) in action planning as anchors that could help facilitate action and change (Schooley, 2020).
However, it is interesting to note that even though millennials are obsessed with social media, 96% of millennials want to talk face-to-face, especially when it comes to their career and development (Hamer, 2020). There is a greater probability that face-to-face (virtual or in-person) coaching sessions will be more effective for millennial clients as opposed to, say, coaching over the phone. In my experience, this seems to be accurate.
Millennials grew up expecting “participation trophies” where “everyone is a winner” and deserves credit for “effort and presence.”Whether this practice is beneficial or not is outside the scope of this paper, but one can draw meaningful learning from this: millennials prefer encouraging feedback over direct feedback (Schooley, 2020). Millennials respond better to constructive feedback and comments. In contrast with, say, Gen Z-ers who have been given more direct, some would say blunt, feedback.
Most people do not look forward to receiving corrective feedback. The coach needs to pay extra care when giving millennials any feedback about their behaviors and performance. The key is to instead focus more on specific outcomes and less on the immediate, often vague, emotional reaction against the deed or behavior itself (Buckingham & Goodall, March-April 2019).
On both occasions, how the coach provides feedback to the client matters. Here are some methods to share feedback with millennials, which applies to coaching conversations and day-to-day conversations with millennials, as coaches should also consider client conversations that occur outside coaching sessions.
The items on the left focus on the feedback, while the ones on the right focus on outcomes.
|Can I give you some feedback?||Here’s my reaction.|
|Good job!||Here are three things that worked for me. What was going through your mind when you did them?|
|Here’s what you should do.||Here’s what I would do.|
|Here’s where you need to improve||Here’s what worked best for me, and here’s why.|
|That didn’t work.||When you did x, I felt y, or I didn’t get that.|
|You need to improve your communication skills.||Here’s precisely where you started to lose me.|
|You need to be more responsive.||When I don’t hear from you, I worry that we’re not on the same page.|
|You lack strategic thinking.||I’m struggling to understand your plan.|
|You should do x.||What do you feel you’re struggling with, and what have you done in the past that’s worked in a similar situation?|
Coaching Millennial Leaders Differences Across Different Generational Cohorts
This paper suggests that the coaching approach needs to consider differences across different generational cohorts.
In coaching millennial leaders, it is essential to anchor their motivation on their values and high purpose, provide freedom and volition to come up with their solutions, leverage their affinity to technology and creativity, and provide encouraging feedback.
Coaches need to be aware of the dangers of generational stereotyping, such as profiling your clients based on their generational cohort. This stereotyping leads to an ineffective coaching experience both for yourself and the client(Eden King, 2019). Use the above coaching approaches to understand your millennial clients better and be aware of the generational differences that may influence your client’s way of thinking and behaviors.
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