5 Tips for Leading Millennials So Your Company Benefits

As leaders, we have a responsibility.  We have to lead well — and that means knowing how to lead those we’re leading.

By now, I’m sure you’ve read a number of articles about adjusting your business to the influx of Millennials (there are 80 million Millennials in America alone — those born roughly between 1980 and 2000).  You know that the typical 9 to 5 gig isn’t how they roll, they’re looking for a good work-life balance, and they prefer to wear jeans to work, thank-you-very-much.  These insights are incredibly useful — in fact, you should schedule in a moment today to read these posts and start to adjust accordingly.

But even beyond attracting Millennials to your company, you need to know how to lead them once they get there.  As a member of Vistage and a reader of the Executive Street Blog, I’m sure you are a veteran leader. Knowing specific aspects of Millennials will help hone your leadership skills when it comes to mentoring this particular group.

So here are my 5 tips for leading Millennials so that your company benefits:

1.  Cultivate Their Natural Entrepreneurial Drive

Why do you think Google gives their employees 20% of free time on the job?  Because Google knows it’s not just Mark Zuckerberg who has the entrepreneurial spirit.  By and large, Millennials are chomping at the bit to innovate.

Instead of stifling this impulse and telling them only about “the way things are done here”, give them a chance to open their entrepreneurial wings — maybe by giving them some “free innovation time on the job”, by giving them more time to brainstorm in a meeting, or by doing something else that works with your company’s culture.  It might save your company time, money, or even reinvigorate your business with a new product.  (P.S. Google Maps was born out of that 20% free time!)

2.  Utilize Their “Outside the Box” Mentality

Dove-tailing off of their entrepreneurial inclinations, Millennials do not want to be stuck in a box.  They are more likely to stay in a job if they are given opportunities to be challenged and learn something new.  Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot, says, “This new generation works diligently in hopes of learning as much as possible and moving on to the next challenging project.”

Keep an open mind.  Don’t assume that your content writer only wants to write or your project manager wants to stay put.  Ask where they’d like to go, recognize their potential, and develop their interests.  It might save you money — but even more importantly, it potentially can give you an all-star team!

3.  Play Into the Buy-In Factor

You may have heard that Millennials switch jobs a lot — and part of this has to do with wanting to find significance in their jobs.  Money isn’t as important to them as meaning:  a remarkable half of Millennials surveyed mentioned they would “rather have no job than a job they hate”.  However, once they find something they can buy into, they are generally sold out for it.

If you can get your Millennial protégés to buy in to your company’s mission, vision, or even corporate culture, then you’ve got an advocate for your business — and a person who will stick around to invest their talent.

4.  Be Liberal with Feedback

For better or worse, Millennials expect consistent, constructive feedback on their work — with 80% desiring regular feedback and 75% looking for mentors.  They are also super connected and in the habit of getting immediate responses, so availability is key.

Now obviously, you’re a busy person and can’t be available to your employees’ every whim, but make sure you have times when they can expect to connect with you — either formally or informally.  At the very least, assign a professional, in-house mentor to your newcomers for the first year or so.

5. Let Them Be Themselves

We joke around about Millennials wanting to wear jeans in the office every day, but really what it comes down to is this: they want to be themselves.  In fact, 93% of Millennials surveyed said this was incredibly important to them.  They don’t want to live in the “Yes, sir,” culture of 1980s corporate America — and with places like Google out there, they don’t have to.

I’m not saying you have to change the corporate dress code; I understand that a level of professionalism is expected — and that level varies with the industry.  But be realistic and encourage personality in the office — whether it’s putting in a new foosball table in the break room or giving 10 minutes of the meeting to talk about Doctor Who.  Find ways — big and small — to value them as people.


To quote HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan once again, he said most poignantly:

“The way in which people work has changed forever, and those of us who don’t adapt will be left in the dust when competing for top talent.”

Finding Millennial talent isn’t enough.  Keeping them for a year or two isn’t enough.  You need to know how to lead them so that they stay and invest in your company.

  • What are you going to change/adapt in your leading habits to encourage Millennial professional development at your company?
  • What other tips would you add here?
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  1. Bob DiBetta

    September 19, 2013 at 11:11 am

    The 5 tips apply across every generation to every human being employed. Millenials are somewhat unique in their comfort with technology and their connectedness relative to previous gnerations, but Millenials are not unique. The ideals and aspirations of human beings are a constant and one should not confuse the presence of a slighly different lens combined with technology as creating a truly unique set of challenges. Every employer and leader in every organization would be well served by employing some or all of the tips to grow and improve their organizations.

    • Jose Palomino

      September 23, 2013 at 12:34 pm

      Thanks Bob– that’s a totally valid point. By and large, I have found that the Millennials I’ve worked with to be a little more open as a whole in these five ways than previous generations — but of course, that’s not a hard and fast rule. Certainly, one attempts to lead EVERYONE this way and hopes it will promote growth. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Dianne Allen

    September 21, 2013 at 5:29 am

    I agree with Bob DiBetta. I think most of us, whatever age, started out with the same aspirations and many have had to accept workplaces that didn’t meet them.

    • Jose Palomino

      September 23, 2013 at 12:37 pm

      Diane, I think you’re completely right. The thing with Millennials is that most aren’t putting up with organizations that don’t meet their expectations — which might really set them back in terms of development within an organization and also personally. It’s important for us to find ways to work within disappointing situations as it builds character.


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