Directing millennials


What is your view on old-fashioned dictatorship - the my-way or the highway type approach?

A great question posted on a recent Facebook Post. Not many managers, coaches or leaders continue with this style for a very good reason. In my experience, the Millennial generation tend not to respond positively to directive style leadership and refusal to adapt your leadership style is likely to result in massive turn-over of players or employees.

Every generation has come to, in turn, complain about those that follow it. The Silent Generation (1923-44) complained of the Baby Boomers (1945-64) "having it all" in the prosperous after-math of the Great Depression and World War II.

The Baby Boomers labelled Generation X (1961-81) as slackers; an uncommitted and unfocused group who were more likely to keep their head down rather than change the world like their civil rights valuing parents.

Generation Y or Millennials (1981-94) are classified as lazy, debt-ridden and programmed for instant gratification people who have existed in a largely comfortable time period and have come to be seen as demanding and unrealistic in their expectations of superiors and employers.

Generation Z (1995-2009) who will soon start entering secondary school are the first generation to have never experienced the pre-internet world. They are highly technologically focused and will learn through a wide variety of non-traditional methods.

But what does all of this mean for the old fashioned coach?

Ken Blanchard's Situational Leadership II model discusses four leadership delivery styles: directive, coaching, supportive and delegating, which are progressed through as the competence of the subordinate increases. However the argument is that Millennials will not respond well to this approach and may even rebel or withdraw if forced to work in this type of environment.

Generation Y is known for having opinions and wanting the opportunity to express them. Participative leadership styles where the leader works from within the team structure and leads by example are also well received as subordinates are empowered to take considered risks, make decisions and problem solve in the presence of an experienced mentor and guide. The key to these approaches is ensuring that there is time made for coaching; that is a process of reflection on actions and outcomes, as well as discussion about lessons learned from both hits and misses.

Having said this, several coaching approaches advocate direct, and at times brutal honesty and feedback between leaders and subordinates. This is used widely in elite sports and espoused by consultants from companies like Leading Teams. On the surface this theory can appear quite intriguing as it varies from the traditional directive coaching style through the subordinates also being given the opportunity to provide direct and honest feedback to their leaders. However, alongside of all of the highly published stories of success that has come from this approach, there are always the unheard stories of people being broken down without the ongoing support and coaching being provided to assist them to reflect and learn from the experience. I'm sure that the Leading Teams model does indeed encourage ongoing coaching and mentoring following the direct feedback, but in reality it appears that for a variety of reasons, this does not always happen. Regardless the book "Any Given Team" by Leading Teams founder Ray McLean is an interesting read and even those who do not agree with the approach will find useful tips on giving and receiving feedback.

In summary, a directive (or dictatorial) approach is unlikely to be effective in the long term with Gen Y and Z. Leaders will need to learn to sell ideas ("what's in it for me") and involve ("here's my thoughts on this") subordinates if they wish to build trust and respect with their leaders and loyalty to the cause.

Further reading:

Talking about my label. Sydney Morning Herald. July 20, 2011

A situational approach to mentoring. Lowther 7.

Leading and managing Generations Y and Z. Australian Leadership Foundation.

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