Don’t Hem Me In – 3 Ways To Lead, NOT Corral Millennials

By Steven A. Hitz, Founding Director
Author of Launching Leaders

May 9, 2017

My four year old grandson came to me recently and said “Grandpa, I have issues.”  Surprised that such a young lad would utter or even think of such reasoning, I nevertheless replied “Elijah, it’s OK, I have issues too.”  And so it is than from the mouths of babes come the most succinct truths.

One of my non-published (until now), non- clinically diagnosed challenges I face from time to time is anxiety.  I get all bothered by the most mundane things on occasion; sometimes it reveals its face in the form of impatience, not wanting to be in crowds, or even as weird as having a table in the restaurant that has ample room and a view toward the patrons to feel safe.  Sometimes it doesn’t make much sense, but it is who I am.  Deal with it.

Maybe this is one reason I honor and respect the Millennial way of looking at life.  “Don’t box me in” they say.  “I’m open to mentoring, but don’t push me, let me find the way without being corralled” is what they are sometimes thinking without saying.

One of my little hobbies is raising cows.  When you want to move a bunch of cows from one pasture to another, you can’t just open a gate and expect them to all end up in the right field.  Eventually they might find the greener pastures, but they do best if they are gently led. You get a good distance on the outside of them, perhaps one person on either side.  Then you position yourself so as not to push them, but come alongside so they are still slightly ahead, and you are just a bit behind their heads.  They will see you out of the corner of their eyes, and move forward.  But if you get right behind them, they will peel off and circle back around, heading in the exact opposite direction.  I learned this from Temple Grandin in Cow School at Colorado State University, and then practiced this technique.

Guess what, in this way Millennials are of the same mind-set as cows.  They will graciously accept mentoring, but don’t want to be pushed.  They want to have their heads in the lead so they won’t get hemmed in or corralled into a corner where they just don’t want to be.

The concept of being unfettered while blazing  their own trail is now shaping the Millennial job market.  “Instead of identifying your job role or description, you [will be] constantly adding skills based on what is going to make you more employable,” says Jeanne Meister, New York-based co-author of The Future Workplace Experience.  In other words, the 20 and 30-somethings don’t want to be hemmed in by a career, but rather, they want to make a difference and hone their skills toward many opportunities to do just that.  This also aligns with my blog  posting Affirmative Exile, where pushing against the status quo is shaping the world landscape through the Millennial mindset.

In addition to this concept of not being hemmed in or living life in a box, the futurists of human resources say that Millennial work lives will consist of doing several long-term projects at once; thus being able to utilize skills to make a difference over a broad platform or spectrum.  With today’s technology and the shrinking of the globe, it’s not out of the question to see traditional careers transform into numerous micro-jobs aimed at well paid skilled workers; not so much a hierarchal organizational chart where you work your way up the ladder.

Living in this new environment requires a little planning, even for Millennials; everything just doesn’t “happen.”  That is why we offer a complete framework in Launching Leaders to help Millennials chart their course and create their own future.  Making plans for life still includes goals.  The goals nowadays might be to acquire the skills needed to pursue a passion, rather than a job description or career title.  It’s all about finding and adopting the right mentors to gently lead from the side, and not try to corral the millennials into the old ways of thinking.

So what can all generations, especially the older ones do, to help this amazing process?  Here are three things to consider.

  1. Lead to open pasture, not a corral.  Allowing the free thinking and open space concept of the Millennial mind to roam free while still providing gentle “alongside” mentoring will allow them to find their green pastures and fulfill their holistic natures.  Be open and inviting to accepting the contributions they can make, even in their own style.
  2. Think skills, not career. Once upon a time in my corporate career life, I had TWO administrative assistants.  They had the skills I needed which I did not personally possess.  Because they were Millennials with the skill sets required to maximize my efforts, they were able to lead micro charges and apply their skills over a broad spectrum.  That is exactly how they desired to work.  Encourage and foster mentorship along the lines of skills, not “career paths.”  Praise their amazing contributions and embrace their passion.
  3. Let them graze. When the Millennials find their green pastures, don’t try to micro manage their efforts.  You will be pleasantly surprised at how productive and amazing their contributions are when you let them graze freely in the pastures of life and not be hemmed in.

Because of the “issues” I have, I totally appreciate the way Millennials lead their determined and free-spirited lives.  Let’s appreciate their way of thinking and be gentle mentors who come alongside and not try to hem them in.

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