You’re doing it wrong: How to lead millennials the right way

Awhile back, I had a telling conversation with a millennial who recently quit his job. When I asked the young man why he left his employer, his response was, “My boss.” After probing a bit more, I discovered he didn’t feel connected to his supervisor or his work. At one point in our conversation, he passionately said,

“My supervisor was very task-focused and always told me what to do. The problem was, he never told me why I was doing what I was doing. Anytime I asked my boss to connect the dots, he would get aggravated and tell me it wasn’t my job to understand the full process. I eventually realized I was never going to learn and grow as a leader under his management style.”

This millennial’s experience and actions are all too common. According to The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016, two-thirds of millennials plan to leave their current organization by 2020 and 71% of those likely to leave in the next two years are unhappy with how their leadership skills are being developed.

As a leader of millennial employees, it’s important to realize an old-school management style of barking orders and withholding information won’t lead to success.

To be the leader millennials need you to be, you’ll need to do the following:

Teach them

Gallup writer and editor Amy Adkins said it best when she wrote, “Millennials want to understand how they fit in with their jobs, teams and companies. They look for work that fuels their sense of purpose and makes them feel important.”

To foster this sense of belonging in the workplace, take the time to explain why things are done. You can accomplish this by explaining the history behind a procedure and ensuring your employees understand the end-to-end impact of their actions.

It’s also wise to create a mentorship and training program to ensure your team receives the growth and development they are looking for. Your team will appreciate the on-the-spot coaching and will feel more connected to their work.

Involve them

It’s simple: Millennials want to be heard. They have strong values and ideas and want to use them to help shape the workplace.

Rather than telling your team what to do, include them earlier in the decision-making process so they can be a part of the solution. Creating leadership committees, regularly conducting team meetings and one-on-ones, having an open door policy and implementing employee surveys are all effective ways to get your workforce more involved.

Cross-training your team on different tasks is another beneficial way to help millennial employees understand how they fit in the bigger picture.

Recognize them

Millennials want to know they are making a difference. They desire meaningful, timely and personalized affirmations.

To give millennials what they crave, praise the specific value they bring to the team and company. Generic phrases such as “nice job” and “good work” won’t cut it.

Did their creative decision-making skills get the team out of a jam? Did their innovative solution result in cost savings? If so, be sure to give them kudos for their specific accomplishment. For example, a comment like, “Your idea to combine the two separate financial spreadsheets was brilliant. As a result, the team has cut down data entry time and I now have all the information I need in one spot. Thank you!” will resonate with millennials.

Be sure the feedback is also given timely. After a meaningful accomplishment takes place, a same day or same week follow up is ideal.

Danielle Clark is a human resources manager with more than 10 years of HR and customer service experience in healthcare and retail organizations. Her work with Fortune 500 companies, in addition to a diverse professional and academic background, has trained Clark to be results-driven, people-focused and a thought-provoking leader. Her goal is to educate and inspire professionals to change their way of thinking. She is also an adjunct professor, active community volunteer, wife, mother and passionate lifelong learner.

Author: Danielle Clark

Dr. Danielle Clark is a witty heart-centered millennial. She wears many hats in this beautiful + crazy thing we call life. She is a proud wife, and cat, dog and human mama who works as a psychic medium, intuitive life coach, spiritual teacher and business professor. Dr. Danielle’s life work is focused on helping people heal from self-judgement, trauma and grief so that they can release their suffering and tap into the highest version of themselves. Danielle’s been blessed to do that for herself and that’s why she’s made it her mission to pass along her wisdom to others. Danielle is from just north of Boston. She currently lives in the Tampa Bay area. She believes with a little love, grace and humor anything is possible. She invites you to join her blog Onwards at and to connect with her on social media.

4 thoughts on “You’re doing it wrong: How to lead millennials the right way”

  1. Nice article! You made some great points about millennials wanting to be heard. I essentially think that is what we all want as well. However, while the millennial you referenced quit his job because he didn’t mesh well with his current boss, he may have missed an opportunity. I personally have worked for a lot of different personalities and have learned a great deal from each one – either approaches that I like and have implemented as I have moved forward or approaches that I would not take in the same position,

    1. Leigh- You are very wise. I too have gained valuable skills and insight from managers who were lacking in certain areas. Having the opportunity to coach up and persevere under a challenging boss certainly makes you stronger and more prepared for future roles and managers. Thanks for your thoughts. Your workplace is lucky to have such an open-minded and flexible professional on their team.

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