Did you do a double take on the title—Millennials are already managing? Millennials are not only the largest age cohort in the workforce today (over 55 million) but they make up twenty-percent of the management population. Every day ten thousand Baby Boomers become eligible to retire and the management ranks are loaded with them. Whether you are a large corporation or a small business it is important to understand how to help Millennials transition into management. Here are three things you need to know when it comes to helping Millennials manage managing:
1) They Fear Disappointing Their Boss While interviewing for my book Millennials Who Manage: How To Overcome Workplace Perceptions And Become A Great Leader, it was surprising to discover that one of the top challenges Millennials experience while transitioning to management is dealing with the fear of disappointing the person who promoted them. Many young leaders explain the inner tension: “When it comes to having to make a difficult decision, it is like I have my boss on one shoulder and the manager I desire to be on the other. I don’t want to disappoint my boss, but I also don’t care to be someone I am not.” Unfortunately, the inner tension can cause them to make decisions that are not true to them or believable to anyone else.
I am not suggesting that they cease to use their boss as a sounding board or that they go rogue. It is prudent for Millennials to ask, “What would my CEO do?” But when their inner voice is drowned out by the fear of disappointing the CEO, they risk not being authentic. Being perceived as inauthentic can render them ineffective at managing their peers or people older then them. For Millennial managers to be successful, they have to have the ability to disagree with you. It may sound counter-intuitive but you need to help them become comfortable with disagreeing with you. Your job as CEO or company owner is to leverage the talent of other people in the organization—even if it leads to your own discomfort.
In many cases, Millennials see their boss as a mentor. When mentors are challenged by a protégé´, it can trigger a subconscious need to sabotage the mentee’s ability to be separate from them. It is a natural phenomenon—so much so there is a word for it in the mentoring literature—separation phase. If you find yourself saying things like, “You are not ready for the next level,” “You would not be here without my help,” or “You have changed” you may be experiencing a redefining of the relationship. As I mentioned earlier, Millennials fear the day that you may be disappointed in them but you have to be prepared for the day they disagree with you. Your response will be the difference between keeping them where it is comfortable for you or what is best for them and the organization.
Here are some signs when Millennials are afraid to disappoint you:
• They do not challenge your ideas If you have a Millennial who does not challenge the status quo, process, or strategy, you have a problem. Consider it a warning sign that they are worried about what you think more than fully engaging.
• They struggle with decision-making Millennials already struggle with decision-making because they do not want to make the wrong decision. Matter of fact, they will often make a decision by indecision. They have been programmed for success and they hold themselves to that standard. The possibility of disappointing a superior makes decision-making even more difficult.
• They are content at their current level If your Millennial manager is not pushing for the next promotion, something is very wrong. If you see the signs, don’t worry. You can easily get Millennials back on track by provoking them to disagree with you. It is like riding a bike for them. However, inviting them to disagree may be a little more challenging for you. But it is the best thing for them and your organization!
2) They Experience Loneliness Many young managers report a sense of loss and loneliness when they enter into a management role. Some find themselves eating lunch alone and left off the invitation list for after-hours fun. Here are a few verbatim remarks from the young managers interviewed:
“Managing the balance of friendship with professionalism.” “People I was friends with wouldn't listen to me when I told them to do something.” “Going from the same level and being friends to now I am in charge of you for business.” “People who were my former co-workers didn’t want to take orders or direction from me.” “Making my coworkers understand that we were still friends but I was now their boss.”
The fact is that most young managers struggle with not being one of the “team” anymore and simultaneously not feeling like a peer with other managers at their level. Understanding how to negotiate the transition makes all the difference in the world in how quickly and successfully someone can make the transition into being an effective manager.
The best role you can play as a coach is to be a sounding board. When coaching, listen for how your young manager characterizes other Millennials. If they are constantly putting peers down, it could be a projection of their own frustration and not feeling effective. There is also a huge temptation to throw younger workers under the bus as a means of finding greater acceptance by older workers.
Perhaps the greatest risk is being perceived as a brownnose—a sure fire way to lose credibility with both peers and bosses. A successful transition to management will require them to have the ability to be separate from friends at work without losing connection with them. Being separate does not mean that they are better than or that they no longer care about them. One interviewee put it this way: “I think the hardest thing I have ever done is get my coworkers to understand that we were still friends but I was now their boss.” The caring part is what fuels one’s ability to stay connected in the face of criticism or even sabotage.
3) They Over-function If you ever do a focus group about what people want in an ideal manager, ‘hold me accountable’ will not make the list. Millennial managers reported struggling with holding their older employees accountable. Older employees know Millennials are achievement oriented and will use that to their own advantage. Particularly when it comes to the application of technology at work. Over-functioning can make you feel good that you are picking up the slack and helping others but at the end of the day—if you are doing someone else’s job—you are not doing your own.
Getting leaders to over-function is how organizational systems undermine leader effectiveness. The temptation is great for anyone who is achievement oriented or enjoys recognition for saving the day. You can help Millennial managers recognize over-functioning by having them ask themselves the following questions:
• If I am doing someone else’s job, who is doing mine? • Is my need to be recognized greater than the employee’s need to perform? • Do I know the competency level of my employees?
Moving into management is not a Millennial phenomenon. Perhaps you resonate with the same tensions looking back at when you made the transition. Knowing Millennials fear disappointing their boss, experience isolation, and are tempted to over-function can help you help them!
Dr. Chip Espinoza is the Co-author of Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce Second Edition, Millennials Who Manage: How To Overcome Workplace Perceptions and Become A Great Leader, and Millennials@Work: The 7 Skills Every Twenty-Something Needs to Overcome Roadblocks and Achieve Greatness at Work. He is also the Academic Director of the Organizational Psychology and Nonprofit Leadership programs at Concordia University Irvine.
Chip keynotes internationally and across the country on how to create an environment in which managers and Millennials can thrive. Chip is a leading expert on the subject of generational diversity in the workplace. He consults in the civic, corporate, and non-profit sectors. His client list features great organizations like The Boeing Company, Microsoft, Schneider Electric, and Special Olympics.
Chip has authored several articles on the subject of leadership and is the go-to person for news agencies on the topic of integrating younger workers into organizations. He is a content expert for CNN on the subject of generational diversity in the workplace. He has also been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, and in major publications. Chip was named a top 15 Global Thought Leader on the Future of Work by the Economic Times.