Coaching millennial leaders

[See also: What skills & mindsets do millennial leaders need to be successful?]

At a recent Performance1 meeting we shared a lively conversation with colleagues, clients, and millennials themselves about how executive coaches might need to adapt to the expectations, challenges and realities of millennial leaders. As we shared our insights and experiences, it became clear that these principles apply just as much to a manager of millenials as they might to an executive coach. Here are some key findings:

Increase the range of communication channels

Old school coaching involves sitting face to face for an hour or so, then limited contact until the next session in a month’s time. Digital natives are used to instant access to information and seem to be more willing to blur their identities across work and private roles. We must communicate with them in the way they communicate, so we need to be flexible around the timing and format of coaching. This means interspersing “normal” face-to-face sessions with Skype conversations, and maintaining follow-up using brief, timely contact via social media or text. This can happen anytime, not necessarily just within ‘normal’ working hours.

Tough love

It appears that many millennials enter the workplace with high expectations, buoyed by frequent positive feedback at home, school & university. While we need to understand millennial leaders’ drive, we also need to encourage realistic expectations concerning readiness for bigger roles and we must also be prepared to give tough feedback (e.g. from 360s). This requires tact and sensitivity and a willingness to point out areas that they may be neglecting (e.g. health & exercise). Young adults will typically juggle multiple roles (career, spouse, family etc). Coaching can offer an alternative perspective which may challenge some of their assumptions and help them to build broader foundations for a sustainable career. In particular we noted how often the “imposter” syndrome turn up, both for women and men. Coaches can help to ensure leaders have acquired basic self management principles (e.g Covey’s 7 Habits) as well as to learn from their mistakes & build experience.

Navigate organisational politics

Millennial leaders often need to learn how to navigate through the organisation. In their impatience to move ahead it’s all too easy to come across as arrogant and dismissive of older, more established colleagues or working practices. The key is to build a range of diverse relationships with older leaders (and team members) and foster mutual appreciation and learning. It’s easy for different generational attitudes to become barriers, but as always the key it to remain open-minded and to listen ferociously.

Self-awareness and people skills still matter in the digital age

We noted the irony that even as technology advances, the basics of human interaction become ever more important. Coaching can encourage reflection and increased understanding of millennial’s impact on others (emotional intelligence), especially as they move from “expert” roles into leadership. Coaches can stress the importance of human connection and “off-line” time, and encourage millennials to build diverse teams, including people with different approaches, superior skills, age, gender etc.

Inter-personal challenges

Typical inter-personal challenges that millennial leaders reported include

  • how to keep team members engaged
  • how to manage when team members aren’t engaged
  • how to avoid losing key people
  • how to manage people & teams which are not co-located

Conclusion

As individuals, millennial leaders probably share more commonality than differences with previous generations. We’re all human beings after all, and the process of personal growth and maturation isn’t going to change just because of Twitter. As coaches we can draw on our understanding of psychology just as we always have. But what we must take into account is the impact of today’s context, of a hyper-connected, unpredictable world with frequent job and career changes.

~ Jonathan Males & Ray Longbottom

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