According to numerous reports, millennials are now the largest cohort in the workplace, and by the year 2020, they will make up 50% of the U. S. workforce.  Much has been studied and written – truisms, trends and assumptions – comparing millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) to other generations in the workplace.

While we have to be careful about generalizations – there are a few characteristics of this group that seem to ring true.  Millennials expect flexibility and they ‘work to live’ rather than embracing the ‘live to work’ mentality of the baby boomers.  They are tech savvy, socially connected and tend to be less comfortable with potentially challenging face-to-face interactions.  These are the folks who may break up through a text message and make key announcements by changing their Facebook status!  They are seeking both interesting work and career advancement opportunities.  A recent Gallup survey shows that millennials also want a supervisor they can respect and learn from – an authentic and accessible leader.

Now it gets interesting.  The oldest millennials are in their mid-thirties and are starting to move into management and leadership roles – managing other millennials.  So how do the millennial characteristics show up for leaders and how can organizations coach this new generation of leaders to be more effective?

First, just a word about leadership coaching – which is a very powerful form of professional development for anyone in a leadership role.  Coaching is particularly helpful for new and emerging leaders who may be tech savvy subject matter experts, but who are not inherently comfortable with direct interpersonal interactions.  Effectively leading others is all about communicating, follow-up and accountability.  It is based upon open, honest and frequent interactions with your team – either in person or via teleconference.  We are asking these new leaders to demonstrate a whole new skill set – using competencies not previously required of them.  Text messaging and tweeting won’t suffice.

Ideas for coaching millennial leaders:

  1. Show them how developing leadership skills will further their career. They are interested in growth and will be motivated by ‘what’s in it for them.’
  2. Work with them on the importance of providing direct feedback to their team. Millennials want input early and often so these new leaders must learn skills and tools to make it more comfortable for them to meet this need.
  3. Talk to them about the appropriate use of technology. Using tech may be their traditional solution for any problem, but it’s not usually the best option for enhancing communication or delivering difficult messages.
  4. Help them establish appropriate boundaries between themselves and their team members. Being liked is no longer the top priority. Millennials like to share about themselves – even sharing what they order at a restaurant.  They post, tweet, and Instagram all sorts of information to friends, followers and cohorts.
  5. Emphasize the importance of deliberate and planned communications. Their team members likely value flexibility and may be working different hours or remotely. Regular team meetings, one-on-ones and written action plans will help keep everyone accountable and on the same page.
  6. Reinforce that they don’t need to have all of the answers and that they need to listen. New leaders often feel like they are expected to know everything in their new role.  This can lead to being closed off to new ideas and other opinions.  Millennials want their opinions heard and considered so it is critical to coach new leaders on effective listening skills.
  7. Ensure they realize that challenges can be a productive way to engage the team. Inexperienced or insecure leaders can become quite sensitive when their authority is challenged. It is easy to take the input personally.  Millennials are very comfortable challenging the status quo so leaders should expect that.
  8. Give them guidance on decision making. New leaders must avoid either ‘winging it’ or ‘analysis paralysis’ and likely need support in good decision making practices.  Millennials generally like to get team input, but at some point, the leader needs to be comfortable with making the call.
  9. Show them how to provide specific and timely recognition for progress, achievements and successes. Recognition is important and expected by millennials.  Remember – these are the kids who got trophies for participating in soccer tournaments.

We must realize that the same strengths and weaknesses demonstrated by the entire generation of millennials will be evident – and potentially magnified – within this new wave of leaders.

While leadership training is a great first step to learn new concepts and tools, one-on-one coaching may be the most effective way to reinforce and change behaviors permanently.  Help millennial leaders succeed by identifying an internal or external coach to provide much-needed, on-the-job, coaching support.

At the end of the day, one other relevant characteristic of millennials is that they are open to being coached.  Those soccer trophies are proof!