Here’s the elephant in the room for millennials in a position of leadership: we’re old enough to have some experience but young enough to still be ignorant as hell.
How do we balance on this generational seesaw? How can you read the room well enough to be effective?
Most importantly: how can you be humble enough to own this balance and add value to those listening?
There are a lot of factors involved here, not least of which is the environment.
Can you recognize your position relative to the rest of the people in the room? Maybe you’re the new leader who has the book smarts but no experience in the trenches. Or maybe it’s your wheelhouse in a relationship challenge and you’re being looked at to fix the problem.
To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is therefore a form of action – Mark Manson
Millennials, just like every other generation which passed through this phase of life, now have the spotlight.
We’re stepping into small leadership roles. We’re managing teams, families, and finances. If you’re there already, maybe you feel the accruing weight of responsibility. If you’re headed there, maybe you want to be prepared.
Below are the four communication skills I’ve found to be most effective for millennials to build their authority and leadership. My experience with all four have roots in the military, however I’ve seen them/used them myself on the civilian side as well.
Still can’t get my toddler to listen, though, so there’s that.
1. Be humble
Nothing radiates “I’m ready to lead” as much as “I’m ready to learn.”
Everyone knows you’re young and there’s an automatic assumption that’s lingering in the air because of it: maybe you’re a little bit too young for this.
Being receptive to ideas and gut feelings from those who have walked this road for longer does two things.
First, you’ll legitimately learn something from them. Second, you’re building group autonomy. You’re letting your team know their voices will be heard and taken into consideration, and this a key ingredient of success that can be fostered by even the youngest leader.
This one is bound to stir up emotions, though. You’ve got an ego, just like everyone else. This is the place to manage it.
When you wear the hat of a learner you are — almost by definition — taking a passive role, which sounds like the opposite of a leadership role.
So instead of thinking in this power-dynamic kind of way, just be hungry for information and don’t underestimate the power of “I could be wrong.”
All good leaders are good learners.
2. Delayed gratification
Nothing counters the stereotype of our insta-hungry generation like some good delayed gratification.
There’s enough psychology behind this concept that I feel confident saying this: Delaying your gratification is almost always the right choice. It demonstrates discipline and an ability to see ahead.
Your team needs both.
And while you’re not communicating verbally by delaying gratification, you’re signaling to those around you that they come first and you’re not in it for the accolades. This is the premise of Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek:
The true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own
And for what it’s worth, leaders do actually eat last in the military.
Delaying gratification is a skill, not a divine gift. It can be practiced. (And fun fact: it alters your brain structure and is associated with less impulsive behavior.)
3. Be knowledgeable
This is probably the most surefire way to be a successful leader. If you can produce and make the team better, chances are people can forgive you for your social quirks or splash of arrogance.
Millennials are stereotyped for not having the knowledge due to experience, which in theory, hinders their leadership capabilities. Which can be true, but nobody can stop you from learning the mechanics of how things work.
I remember in the military we had to disassemble these massive weapon systems with microscopic pieces. The smallest one in the unit — who was far from the most fit in the unit — knew his stuff.
He upped his knowledge on the weapon systems, figured out how to break them down and put them back together faster than anyone else, and became the expert.
What base of knowledge can you expand to become a more competent leader?
Families, teams and social groups can only grow when there’s a larger cup of knowledge to drink from. Fill the cup and be generous.
You’ll even make more leaders out of the deal.
4. Be logical
Millennials, listen up – nothing says “I haven’t been around the block” like emotional leadership. In fact, emotional leadership isn’t really leadership so much as an anchor.
With experience, yes, you should infuse some passion and intensity into your leadership style. But off the bat? Not so much.
I’m not saying you need to be Spock.
You’re bound to have emotions in any position of influence (or any position in general). The point isn’t to suffocate the emotions, it’s to acknowledge them and detach from them so you can put the team first.
My brother’s a Captain in the Army. He gave me a book called The Mission, the Men and Me.
That’s the order of operations for strong leadership: task, group, then you. It’s a logical pipeline that ensures the task gets done and everyone can benefit from having done their share.
It’s also a way to mitigate the millennial stereotypes. What’s logical for a 20-something year old is logical for a 50-something year old. Identifying this, putting language around it, and communicating this logic shows you’ve got a handle on how things get done around here.
Tie ’em together
No one ingredient makes a good pie. No one trait makes a good leader.
Have the courage to look foolish for trying something creative, such as comparing leaders to pies. Be the depository for people’s concerns and turn them into assets. (And if you want a book on leadership, check out Ray Dalio’s Principles.)
Your millennial status is a factor in your leadership style.
All that means is you’ve got the world ahead of you.