I speak millennial. Does your team?

Those darn millennials — that’s what people say, isn’t it?

Many of them do. And those many are taking the wrong approach, because this generation is capable of amazing things.

The millennials are about to pass the baby boomers as the nation’s largest living generation. By 2020, millennials — those born between 1982 and 2000 — will occupy 35 percent of the global workforce, experts predict.

They have been labeled the “me” generation, often called entitled and lazy, among other condescending terms. And like every generation before them, there are examples who aren’t ideal.

But we’ve so harshly generalized millennials we shouldn’t be surprised when some enter our organizations a bit insecure, defensive and ultimately leery of trusting leadership. After all, the culture at large and the world they’ve grown up in has conditioned them to do so.

So, how can you and I respond?

I encourage us to drop the insults. They don’t help.

Ditch the generalizations. Stereotypes are lazy.

Switch our mindset from reactionary (past focused) to proactive (future oriented). It’s just what the best leaders do.

The best leaders and companies in the world realize they have a tremendous opportunity and window of time to engage the minds and hearts of millennials. They realize they can’t just keep doing what they’ve always done by keeping the same hiring, recruiting, training, managing and engagement strategies. They realize they must build bridges with their employees instead of putting up walls.

So what are the best leaders, teams and organizations doing to proactively engage millennials and build bridges for a better future? Here are highlights of what the best are doing:

  • Have purpose: It’s a good thing that people want a deeper purpose or mission to “why” they do what they do. After all, we spend a large portion of our lives at work. The best leaders are building authentic relationships and connections with employees and the mission of their brand beginning with their hiring, onboarding and training. They are getting even more proactive about sharing the story of their purpose throughout their organization.
  • Give feedback: Millennials crave feedback. They want to know they are on track and are contributing uniquely to the purpose that was so eloquently shared with them. Managers and leaders are planning more regular feedback sessions and proactively opening lines of communication and engagement.
  • Be participatory: It’s been said that this generation values experiences over things. They don’t want to just check the boxes. They don’t want to be voiceless and meaningless. They want to participate. Entire companies are revamping their onboarding, leadership development and culture-shaping initiatives to allow cross-functional teams to participate in core values discussions, cultural competencies and the vision of the company.

No matter what role you play in your organization, your ability (or inability) to connect with, communicate with and collaborate with human beings (no matter what generation) will determine your level of effectiveness.

The opportunity is now to attract new thinking and leadership in support of this powerful generation. Learn to speak millennial, and it will pay infinite dividends.


Jason V. Barger is not a millennial but is a globally celebrated keynote speaker, leadership coach and author of “Thermostat Cultures,” “Step Back from the Baggage Claim” and “ReMember.” He is founder of Step Back Leadership Consulting, a Columbus-based company that works with businesses and organizations worldwide.