Better Together - by Simon Barrington
How Different Generations Can Help Each Other Lead. An abridged extract from Leading – The Millennial Way
CEOs to senior leaders, pastors to PCC members – leaders know who they are and what they’re doing, right?
Unfortunately, as many of you may know, that’s not the case.
Over my own 28 years of being in senior leadership at a FTSE 100 company and later CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, there were times where I (and many of the other leaders around me) felt the need to hide behind masks and shield our true identities. But if God has called us – flaws and all – into a leadership role, surely, he wants us to bring our whole glorious self?
From a cursory glance, it seemed that this is something the generation below us – millennials (born 1984 to 2000 and currently aged 18 to 35) – were doing really well, but I was also concerned that they had been badly stereotyped as entitled, lazy and disloyal.
Given that millennials are the leaders of today – the leaders of our businesses, charities and churches – I started looking around at the material already available and found that there was a significant gap in the research on millennials and particularly on millennial leaders.
Together with a millennial researcher, Rachel Luetchford, we therefore set out to interview nearly 500 Christian millennial leaders over the course of a year and published the results in October 2018. You can download the full results at millennial-leader.com/research.
Based on this new research, Rachel and I (a millennial and a baby boomer) began to see how the generations could work better together and learn from one another and we wanted to share our findings in a deeper reflection on the research. We therefore set about writing Leading – The Millennial Way. In the book we answer two basic questions:
How do millennials hone their unique energy to become the best leaders they can be?
And how do non-millennials harness the power of this generation and step into leading the millennial way themselves?
My journey has been one of finding the courage and bravery to be truly me and the strength to take off the masks and learn to be vulnerable and authentic. My interaction with millennials has deeply enriched me and shaped me on that journey. A character-forming journey of learning to lead out of who I really am – a journey that continues to today and that has helped many of my peers on that journey as well.
In the extract from our book below we explore some of the negative stereotypes of millennials, how they have been misread and how they actually reveal a core set of beliefs and positive contributions that can be harnessed and celebrated in our churches and organisations.
The following abridged (and edited) extract is taken from Leading – The Millennial Way by Simon Barrington with Rachel Luetchford.
Rachel: Historically, generations have always been categorised, labelled and scrutinised. Labelled “millennials” we are no different, with large amounts of research and literature focusing on who we are, our characteristics and how we impact society. In fact, it is claimed that millennial professionals “are one of the most discussed and researched subjects of recent time”.1 Maybe this is just a coming of age thing because there is no doubt that millennials are now young adults and we constitute a major section of the workforce and occupy many leadership roles.2
Simon: A detailed scan of all of the research and articles sees millennials being categorised and generalised by academics, social commentators and millennial themselves. Hobart and Sendek in their book Gen Y Now [John Wiley] identify from their research seven “myths” or consistent stereotypes that millennials have been labelled with:
2. Instant gratification and wanting a trophy for showing up
6. Lack of respect for authority
They go on to argue that these stereotypes are either “misconceptions and exaggerations or they are traits that can actually lead to positive and productive Gen Y (millennial) performance in the workplace”.3 Rachel and I agree with them and believe that millennials have been over-stereotyped and poorly caricatured and based on Hobart and Sendek’s work in exploding these myths,4 our own more recent research argues for a much more nuanced view. Underneath the stereotypes our research has identified really strong and positive core beliefs that need to be understood. These strong beliefs, if harnessed by the millennial leader for positive momentum, like windsurfers do with the strong winds, could turn the world of work upside down in a positive way; and if continually misread have substantial potential to rip businesses and organisations apart and to throw windsurfers into the deep.
This is Conflict Central – the battleground of beliefs and approaches that is causing us all so much grief. As Hobart and Sendek5 so brilliantly put it, “Different too often equals wrong. As a leader your job is to recognise that different equals different … and then lead your troops to that same understanding”. We must put down any prejudices and enter conflict central, being willing to imagine a collaborative future.
Stereotype 1: Lazy/slacker
The stereotype of Lazy/slacker is commonplace and often used when older leaders see millennials leaving work consistently on time or arriving late or not putting in the extra hours. What is being observed here is an outward expression of a deeply held core belief.
Core Positive Belief:
The whole of life matters
Rachel: We found from our research that there was definitely a change in the nature of commitment to work among millennials and that this is being driven by a core positive belief that the whole of life matters. We believe that employers need to grasp this change in the nature of commitment and to build on the positive core belief in millennials towards a commitment to the whole of life. So, when an employee is leaving on time they are not viewed as being lazy or a slacker but as someone who has a commitment to being fully productive, fully alive and fully committed to work while at work and fully alive outside work as well.
Positive contribution: Productive/Fully Alive
Simon: If businesses can tap into this core belief then the positive contribution could increase workplace productivity across all generations.
It’s a journey I’ve been on myself. How productive am I actually if I don’t take proper rest and don’t balance my life? A report in The Economist for example quotes a study showing that output at 70 hours a week is the same as at 56 hours a week – resulting in 14 wasted hours in terms of productivity.6 One of the millennials we interviewed told us the story of how at her final interview for her graduate scheme at a major corporate, she asked that if they employed her she could take a year off before joining to travel the world. They agreed and after three months’ induction, she left to follow her dreams, returning nine months later. This enlightened employer saw the huge value of their new employee bringing the diversity and depth of her experience to the workplace, the benefit of them being fully engaged and the value of that employee’s whole life being enriched.
Stereotype 1: Instant Gratification
Simon: Millennials have been stereotyped as wanting instant gratification, as not being prepared to wait for anything and as being impatient for change, acknowledgement and promotion. Many of my peers are shocked at graduates leaving their firms after one or two years because they didn’t get the promotion they thought they deserved.
Rachel: Our research showed that millennials are constantly comparing our performance with others and that we are used to the world constantly changing and evolving and having to evolve rapidly with it. We are used to rapid progress and tend to have frustrations with anything that takes time or maturity or that needs patience.
Core Belief: Expect Rapid Results
Simon: Millennials have grown up expecting rapid results. They are used to there being instant feedback on every performance and to being judged on results only and not on age or longevity of service. Underlying this is the core belief that they can adapt quickly, grow rapidly and be constantly learning.
To counter instant gratification and deal with failure, rapid and real feedback can significantly help millennials be mentored through the need for patience and application in achieving long-term impact as well as rapid results.
Positive Contribution: Fast And Adaptive
The positive contribution is that millennial leaders are incredibly adaptive to change and fast to react to evolving situations, a set of attributes that when highly valued and channelled can make for a significant competitive advantage.
Stereotype 3: Self-Centred/Narcissistic
Rachel: Self-centred and narcissistic is one of the most common stereotypes I hear thrown at us. There is no doubt that some millennials have grown up in a world where their parents’ self-worth has been bound up in their children’s achievement. I know that’s not true of all of us, and it hasn’t been my experience, but I still recognise this and have seen many examples of it. This coupled with the huge choice and huge diversity available to us and a greater degree of awareness of all the options out there, can lead to a perception that we are self-obsessed, believing the world revolves around us and our happiness. This was definitely a significant tension in the research as we saw ourselves wrestling with our own identity, our self-confidence and our self-esteem, while also believing that individually and corporately we have the skills, knowledge and aptitude to bring a new creativity and fresh innovation to the world.
Core belief: I am enough
Simon: I think that in reality, every generation going through early adulthood experiences the challenge of wrestling with self-identity, self-confidence and self-esteem and millennials seem to be wrestling with this more than most. There is a huge commitment though to the core beliefs that each person is enough, each person is valued, each person has a unique contribution to make and each person needs to come to the full expression of their whole self.
Although we may not have seen this yet in its fullness, the world of business will benefit greatly from its ripening and the richness and diversity it can bring.
Positive Contribution: Personal Reputation
A positive contribution of these core beliefs that we observed in the research, is that millennial leaders are passionate about reputation and image and personal brand and therefore want to be seen to be doing a good job. They want the organisations that they are working for to look good, have a positive image, and they want to be positive representations of that brand into the marketplace.
1. Srivastava, M., & Banerjee, P., 2016. Understanding Gen Y: The Motivations, Values and Beliefs. Journal of Management Research, 16 (3).
2. University of Notre Dame, 2017. Attract Emerging Leaders with Purpose, not Perks [online]. Available at: http://ethicalleadership.nd.edu/news/attract-emerging-leaders-with-purpose-not- perks/ [accessed September 2017].
3. Hobart, B., & Sendek, H., 2014. Gen Y Now. Page 33.
4. Hobart, B., & Sendek, H., 2014. Gen Y Now. Page 37-75.
5. Hobart, B., & Sendek, H., 2014. Gen Y Now. Page 25.
6. The Economist, 2014. Proof that you should get a life [online]. Available at: https://www.economist.com/free-exchange/2014/12/09/proof-that-you-should-get-a-life [accessed July 2018].