Our Western World’s youngest generations are driving their senior colleagues crazy, aren’t they? They ignore authority and jump right into the boardroom questioning everything, yet seem to be in need of constant feedback and reassurance. They do not seem to take business bottom lines seriously, yet have huge ambitions and set high expectations on behalf of the entire world. They are both disrespectful of traditional norms and insecure. Or at least that is what we hear.

Yet, they are exactly what their parents wanted them to be and they bring healthy challenges to the post-crisis era.

Millennials, sometimes also called Generation Y, are loosely defined as the children of the so called Baby Boomers; in general terms they are those who start their professional careers in the third millennium, specifically in the aftermath of three important socio-cultural “revolutions”: the economic depression of the late 90’s; the exponential increase of sustainability consciousness, and of course the internet with the consequent enormous availability and speed of information exchanges.

The changed socio-cultural context has clearly shaped how the Millennniums’ re-interpret the heritage passed along by their parents and these changes give us important cues about the roots of their attitudes and behaviors, and about our (I am also a Baby Boomer) reactions:

Baby Boomers lived their early professional careers in a period of economic boom, which made them feel that “anything was possible”; Millenniums are faced with a post-crisis context with fewer jobs and slow growth.
The Baby Boomers had challenged the recommendations of their own parents (of Depression Era) to strive for job stability and consensus; with many jobs being created every day, they learnt to take the initiative to improve their situation and challenge the status quo, and found fertile soil to their ambitions, which strengthened their confidence.
The Baby Boomers passed along this confidence to their children: believe in yourself, work hard, take initiative and doors will open up for you! Many also encouraged their children to challenge authority beyond what they themselves had done, when rebelling against authority-fearsome parents.
The Millenniums are therefore ambitious and driven, but the economic climate has changed: so their aspirations and drive get often frustrated.
The current employers (Baby Boomers) are frustrated too, having few answers to the aspirations of the new generation and feeling uneasy about it – sometimes becoming defensive and dismissing.
The Baby Boomers invested with enthusiasm in the pursuit of their own professional development, which often became a rather individualistic focus; in this general “growth euphoria” other values (like sustainability) did not make it to the broad attention of media and public. Millennials have witnessed the dangers of excessive individualism and have lived their formative years in the awareness that indiscriminate economic growth may put both our economy and the planet at risk.
Millennials are today more socially and environmentally conscious and they are asking difficult questions; pursuit of personal gain is clearly no longer the only focus.
When baby Boomers were asked to focus on economic growth, they jumped on board; Millennials ask “Why?” and want more complete answers. The combination of confidence and broader perspective makes them more demanding. And again, the senior generation feels uneasy for not having sufficient answers (why don’t they just do as told, why do we always need to explain everything? We knew we had to work hard and focus, why do we have to waste so much time to answer when they challenge not only the “how” but even the “why” of everything?)
Baby Boomers lived their formative years without Internet; knowledge had to be built based on limited information gathered in painstaking and time consuming ways. Millennials have enormous loads of information accessible at their fingertips and less time to process it; they are also submitted to the enormous pressure of comparing themselves not only to (admittedly easier) achievements by their parents, but also to a huge number of conflicting information about how to be successful.
The enormous media pressure and the lack of time to process makes Millennials more insecure; Baby Boomers did not have to digest as many messages about diets, training, behavior, cool things to do an not to do, hints and suggestions from millions of blogs and “how to” sites or competitive pressures from social medias.
Driven by ambition inherited by parents who told them “anything is possible, just follow your passion”, eager to bring broader sustainable meaning to their contribution and struggling to find what is “right” for them in the midst of the digital tsunamis, they search for reassurances.
But when Millennials in their first jobs turn to seniors for feedback and reassurances, they meet with Baby Boomers who do not understand or are incapable of providing prompt and frequent responses because they were used to the “if you do not hear anything it means that it is Ok” habit.

In net: Millennials may seem overly ambitious, highly demanding, careless about authority and still insecure, needing plenty of reassurances. High maintenance? Yes. Maddening? Often. A “me generation”? Not quite as much as their parents, just differently demanding.

And isn’t it great?

Millennials are a powerful highly educated, bold, demanding lot that might be just what our economy and our planet need. We just need to learn to listen (a poorly cultivated skill in the traditional Baby Boomers’ leadership training), acknowledge and empathize (even less well known at least until the discovery of Emotional Intelligence) and engage in frequent, factual and constructive feedback (not judgment, evaluation or advice!)

Time invested in these three skills is what is needed to help Baby Boomers prepare to exit the business scene, leaving a fully empowered generation of smarter (as all next generations always are) and unleashed to fix what we have partly contributed to mess up.

Copyright © 2014 Laura Lozza

Grooa offers specific training workshops in the following areas:

Active Listening skills
Courageous and Respectful Feedback that builds Engagement and Performance
Dealing with change with empathy and positivity

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