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It’s Time to Let Go of Your Millennial Baggage

If you’ve ever prepared for a speaking engagement, you know how easy it is to get caught up in the content you’re delivering and driving your message home. But when I recently completed a presentation to a class of college students, rather than reflect on how my message was received, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the message these students were sending me.  

They were not only dressed professionally, they approached me with intelligent and thought-provoking questions afterward, and everyone expressed their appreciation for my visit to campus. They might have been given a friendly nudge by their professor to dress and act a certain way in my presence, but that didn’t stop me from feeling inspired by our next generation of leaders and their reaction to my class visit.

The tail end of the millennial generation are college students right now, and many on the front end are in their mid-thirties. Millennials take issue with the endless dissection of their generation—especially because most of the labeling isn’t useful and no one can agree on what birth years should be included. Older millennials feel the disconnect with characterizations most keenly since they’re well beyond the angst years and busy raising families and building careers.

The majority of what I read about millennials isn’t flattering, and I’m not quite sure why because the millennials I work with, speak to, and are surrounded by in my volunteer work are quite impressive. Sure, there are extreme examples at each end of the spectrum for every generation, but on balance, I have to side with my own experiences.

Perhaps every new generation receives a dose of skepticism by those of us who’ve toiled before them and survived young adulthood. That somehow, because we arrived before the younger age group, it means the cross we bore was much worse. The reality is every generation is shaped by the heavy circumstances of the day and society into which they’re born.

I think it’s ironic that we blame up-and-coming generations for how they behave when we are the generation who raised them and voted for people and policies who shape their future landscape. This generation will inherit a sobering legacy of mighty challenges. Rather than listening to our own messages about millennials, let’s focus on the positive messages they’re sending us.

Consider some of the positive traits that make millennials excellent employees and future leaders. Here are a few of the many insights from author and serial entrepreneur Deep Patel:   

1. Curious

Unlike prior generations, millennials have literally put their money where their mouths are by investing much more than we ever did in higher education. They’re enthusiastic about learning new skills on-the-job. Look for ways to pique their curiosity with challenging projects and explain why—it’ll go a long way toward retention and strengthening your working relationship.

2. Purposeful

Millennials are focused on the greater good and how they can blend that purpose with their work and personal lives. If your organization can offer them that blended opportunity in the form of a job, you’ll encounter motivated employees and likely add loyalty to the mix.

3. Collaborative

Millennials love to collaborate. They don’t have issues with owning creativity. If you can, provide this generation with opportunities to work in teams that represent a cross-section of your company, or at the very least facilitate peer collaboration. According to Chip Conley, a number of studies have shown that age-diverse teams are more successful.

Rather than replay the same old song we often hear about the younger generation, let’s push pause and think about the positive messages they are sending us. Like most interactions in life, if you focus on recognizing the good in others, they’ll most likely find a way to repeat that behavior. I can’t think of a company that wouldn’t benefit from more curiosity, purpose, and collaboration. Can you?

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  1. Marianne Gonzales

    This was such an excellent read! Thank you! I’ve been looking for more articles like this to bridge the gap, to learn to communicate better, and to really show that every generation has their own specific super power! I find the millennial generation quite fascinating as I’m learning to do more of pushing that pause button.

    Reply to Marianne Gonzales

    1. Walt Rakowich

      That’s wonderful, Marianne. I’m so glad this was helpful.

      Reply to Walt Rakowich

  2. Tim Bahr

    Excellent points. It’s impossible to paint an entire generation with a broad brush, but it’s been going on for centuries:
    “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room”

    Reply to Tim Bahr

    1. Walt Rakowich

      Or take Seneca the Elder: “Our young men have growth slothful. Their talents are left idle, and there is not a single honorable occupation for which they will toil night and day.”

      Reply to Walt Rakowich

  3. Joseph Montoya

    Great insight, Walt.

    I must admit, I am guilty of being the curmudgeon that tauts of walking to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways!

    With this insight and what I gleaned this morning about character being taught and not purely innate, I’m changing my perspective!


    Reply to Joseph Montoya

    1. Walt Rakowich

      You’re not alone, obviously! Glad you’re making the choice to reevaluate. After all, I’m sure there are plenty in our own generations who aren’t shining examples.

      Reply to Walt Rakowich

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