The Millennial Manager: Truths and Misconceptions


More and more millennials are taking over management and supervisory positions. As more of our seasoned workforce continues to retire, millennials are stepping into roles with higher responsibility and accountability. There seems to be some misconceptions about millennials and their ability to lead teams and organizations. For this post, I sat down with Mr. Miguel Aviles-Perez, President of Young Government Leaders and Chief of an Office of Recruitment and Retention Programs at the US Federal Government to talk about this topic. He shared some remarkable insights about millennial mangers and some truths and misconceptions about their ability to lead and manage.

Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception people in the workplace have about millennial managers?

A: According to a recent survey released by Manpower Group, becoming a leader or manager in an organization is the lowest priority among millennials. Only 4 percent of millennials want to manage others and the other 4 percent see getting to the top of an organization as a priority. With that said, seeing millennial managers in government is not the norm, however it will be in the near future. Throughout my conversations with young leaders across the country, I have realized that the biggest misconception people have about millennial managers is the correlation of age and lack of ability or expertise. What I hear the most is “these young whipper snappers can be my kids, and kids know nothing.” Another comment I have heard is, “go get some experience and then come back to tell me what to do.” So shifting the conversations in the workplace from age and lack of expertise or ability to the powerful possibilities of collaboration will define the success of organizations managed by millennials.

Q: Are millennials more flexible or more demanding than the previous generation of managers?

A: Research conducted by Deloitte suggests that millennials behave much the same as other generations did: once they find a steady job they form their own household, buy a car, and consider starting a family. However, other research shows millennials as the most agile and adaptable generation that truly values flexibility in the workplace. At the end of the day, I believe the organization’s culture drives the behavior and expectations of millennial managers. It is important to keep in mind that the top priority of millennials is to make a positive contribution in the workplace. This may translate in a lack of patience with bureaucratic processes getting in the way of adding desired value. We may push harder against “that’s the way we have always done it” mindsets, and challenge the status quo more aggressively than other generations, but that’s what is required from us to move government forward.

Q: I overheard a conversation about how millennials are not ready to lead or manage? Is this true? What would you say to people who think this way?

A: Baby boomer retirements continue to rise year after year, as a result, millennials will be asked to lead earlier in their careers without the benefit of decades of experience. I have heard similar conversations as well. This misconception is neither true nor false. The reality is that finding and creating good managers is difficult. When it comes to millennial leadership, let them lead, let them manage. Remarkable managers are not created overnight, remarkable managers are created through the test of time, experiences and calculated risk.

Q: What advice do you have for millennial managers that are dealing with generational differences? For example managing more seasoned employees.

A: If you are a manager, you were selected to manage; do so. Here are three principles I have learned in the short period of time I have been a manager.

  • Show the same level of respect to everyone in your team. Showing respect to your team will help you start developing meaningful relationships. When you show respect you acknowledge strengths, importance, and existence and most importantly you demonstrate trust. One of the most powerful practices to show respect is listening. Bryant H. McGill put it best when he said, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”
  • Set clear expectations early in the game. Communications will make or break you as a millennial manager. Setting expectations at the beginning of your tenure as manager will help you succeed in your role. The first action you need to take to set expectations is to understand your preferences and what works for you. In other words, having self-awareness about your management style. Once you have that understanding, the next step is to define the areas that need clear expectations. Start a list with an explanation about why that expectation is important. Once you have a good draft, meet with your team to discuss the expectations, gather their feedback, collaborate with them to arrive to mutually beneficial understandings and eventually share them in writing.
  • Don’t force your team to follow your ways, do your best to adapt to your people. This principle may sound complicated, but adaptive leadership is an important skill for millennial managers. If you want to communicate better and work more effectively with your team, then adapting to their personalities is a must. Not everyone communicates in the same way and not all your employees will have the same needs. Getting to know your team will be a must for you if you want to succeed as a manager. One simple step you can take is to ask your employees to share with you their personality type (i.e., MBTI, personality type assessments, etc.). Knowing the basics about their personalities will help you start the conversation about preferences and styles. Another strategy successful managers use, is to have an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of employees. Strength Finder 2.0 is a great book/assessment to help your employees to discover their strengths. Above all remember, it is not about changing who you are, but how do you behave under certain situations.

Michelle Rosa is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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