That’s It! Let Millennials Go

When is the last time you used or heard the word “Millennial”? How do people say it in your leadership circles? Is it a term of endearment or a scathing word that’s akin to hearing fingernails scrape a chalkboard? If I were to guess, based on what I see floating by on social media these days, it’s probably the latter. In fact, just this morning, another “Can you believe Millennials?” style video got tossed my direction, complete with eye-rolls and disbelief about younger coworkers.

While I understand the frustration that generational differences may cause, when did bashing people born between 1981-1996 become okay? How have older generations in the working world so quickly forgotten that they too were once younger, less experienced, and starry-eyed? The truth is, according to Pew Research, Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. Rather than tear Millennials down, cut them off, or transition them out, I believe it’s time to “let them go” in a healthy way.

“That’s it! Enough is enough.” If you’re fed up and want Millennials to get with the program or go away, this post might actually soften your heart. However, if you want to give them (and every generation) an opportunity to soar in leadership, read on!

To let Millennials go, here’s how to set them free.

1. Free their strengths.

Don Clifton, Father of Strengths Psychology and Inventor of CliftonStrengths, says:

“There is no more effective way to empower people than to see each person in terms of his or her strengths.”

Because everyone—regardless of their birth year—wants to feel loved, accepted, and competent, celebrating the unique gifts each person brings to the leadership table is a win-win. Freeing someone to use their strengths has nothing to do with giving everyone a blue ribbon for participation. It’s about honoring what makes each person great and how that contributes to the overall mission, team, and outcome. Do everyone in your organization a favor—stop discounting Millennials and free them to discover, develop, and deploy their strengths.

2. Free their creativity.

Remember when you hated old-guard leaders telling you, “We’ve never done it that way”? (Note: I’m well aware that Millennials may be reading this, but you’re not off the hook on this either.) For whatever reason, leaders of all ages love questioning status quo until their status quo gets questioned. We’re convinced, right, wrong or otherwise, that our way is tried and true while others are naïve. The fact is, change is constant, and we need creativity to adapt. We can’t afford for a “Who Moved My Cheese?” posture to creep in. (If you’re not familiar with Dr. Spencer Johnson’s classic leadership fable, watch this 4 min. summary.) A fantastic way to build up and into Millennials is to let them run wild in the fields of creativity. Sure, not every idea will be a winner, but you’ll spark a culture of innovative solutions when you make space for this new era of leaders to think differently, bring fresh perspective, and offer up “Why have we never thought of this in this way?” solutions.

3. Free their failures.

“Llover sobre mojado” [pron. YOHV-air so-BREH mo-HADO] is a Spanish idiom that literally means “to rain on wet.” Used in context, it simply means “to make matters worse.” A Latino friend of mine taught me about this when I was responsible for evaluating public communicators in our organization. As a fellow speaker, he reminded me that we often know when we’ve missed the mark, so it’s not necessary to have someone heap excessive criticism on people. Millennials will mess up—just like everyone else—but adding insult to injury is pointless. You will serve the upcoming generation well to free them from shame when it comes to failure. Don’t rain on wet. Let Millennials go for it as leaders and walk with them when they make mistakes.

4. Free their dreams.

Millennials have bigger global concerns than keeping their Facebook and Instagram accounts up-to-date. Yes, they develop lots of technology, but they’re also taking the world by storm for the better. From public health and green energy solutions to universal access to education and inclusion programs, Millennials are finding ways to serve people across the planet. While some older generations keep squelching such contributions, imagine what could happen if you free Millennials to dream big on behalf of your mission. Perhaps now you can say with a smile, “That’s it! Let Millennials go!”

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