Debunking the Millennial Question – October 2018

I believe that when you work in the field of Leadership you take on a special fiduciary role where openness and exploration with clients is critical. I am always careful not to declare absolutes or ever believe that I have the answers for another person. The questions are more important then the answers. Answers appear if we are willing to stand in the question.


I have seen a lot over the past 30 years and rarely do I get worked up about things anymore. But last week was a real exception. I found myself watching Simon Sinek’s interview on Millennials in the Workplace and it made me crazy. I felt like he set us back 50 years in leadership evolution.

If he was simply seeking publicity he was successful, but if he is trying to be credible in a complex world of significant leadership shift, that’s another story.


When we take an entire generation and categorize them, label them and call them names it is no different than doing this with a race of people. It simply sets us all back.


Simon references some research, however, we must be careful when we use research to ensure it is credible and peer reviewed. I confess I do not know which studies he refers to or their source. One reason for this is that I do not spend time researching and exploiting things like generational differences, preferring to spend my time understanding the human experience as a whole.


Simon states there are four factors impacting Millennials in the Workplace: parenting, technology, patience, environment.  Let’s take a closer look at each one. Please note, I will not repeat his message (I so strongly disagree with him). However, I will present another way to look at some of his strongly worded statements in order that we can reflect and determine for ourselves.



Failed Parenting


Is it possible that because the parents of Millennials were so discouraged, tired and, frankly, fed-up with the old mechanistic command and control corporate culture, they made a conscious effort to instill in their children what they truly wanted for themselves: freedom, creativity and an ability to contribute to something meaningful?


Simon states, “everyone gets a participation medal, even if you come in last.”

Is it possible that the parents of Millennials were so tired of a school system that does not meet the needs of many children that they challenged the system in the only way they knew how? They challenged administration and teachers to shift in the direction of inclusivity and compassion instead of competition and winning.  Is it possible that parents were desperately trying (and still are) to influence the school system to teach to the individual needs of the child and not to a predetermined curriculum designed for the average? As Shawn Achor states, “if we continue to teach to the average, we will simply remain average.”  Anyone in the field of leadership today should have a thorough knowledge of Positive Psychology, Neuroscience and Heart/Brain connection in order to clearly understand the intense shifts both our education systems and corporations need to be truly successful in engaging the human being.


Technology and Dopamine


Comparing alcohol and technology is very interesting and yes, both do impact the amount of dopamine created in the body. However, alcohol addiction is more complicated than the simple analogy Simon provides. The numbing of the human species has been going on since the Industrial Revolution; this is nothing new. People have been numbing themselves with food, television, alcohol, drugs, gambling and shopping long before the Millennials arrived on the planet. The reasons for numbing are complicated but at the core of these epidemics are things like feeling overwhelmed, stressed, under fulfilled and, yes, low self-esteem but trust me, this is not unique to a younger generation.


Technology and its numbing affect are having great impacts on everyone in the workplace, certainly not just Millennials. We all know people over 40 who are completely addicted to their smartphones, Facebook and Twitter. Text messaging and other technology distractions in the boardroom, meeting rooms and conference rooms is not exclusive to Millennials. In fact, we see as many older people with a complete inability to detach from social media as the younger generation.


His statement that as we get older we need approval from our peers, not just family, is very interesting. Is it possible that this generation, because of their upbringing and possible evolution, is desperately seeking approval from within themselves and that seeking and finding personal alignment is at the core of their quest? Meaning, conformity to the old energy organizations, which are focused solely on dollars and numbers, is harder for them. They are simply not interested.


Is it possible that this generation actually understands the value of seeking personal alignment and truth for themselves and they are desperately trying to hang on to any individuality and creativity they have, while trying to make a living in a very old corporate environment? Research is clear that having impact and purpose is actually part of being human and has nothing to do with age or demographics.




This is my favorite one. What it really means is that if you want to get along, you need to be like those that came before you. As one old energy leader said, “fit in or fuck off.”  Accept that you will not have impact until you have paid your dues, worked hard, followed every rule, even if it makes no sense, and don’t even try to be creative; that is left for a very small few at the top.


I do a lot of public speaking and I am often approached by mid-level leaders afterwards who say, “but I don’t understand it, these young people think they should have it all immediately. I had to work hard for years, over a decade, before I was even noticed. I had to do my time, take on the extra projects in order to get the role I have now. Why should it be different for them?”  As I quietly watch the energy of the person describing their hardships, I can feel and see that their emotions are anything but positive. They often describe a real struggle. My question is always the same, “it sounds like you worked really hard to get where you are, does that mean that everyone, and all future generations, should have to do the same in order to get work that they love, where they can have impact? How did it feel for you to have to make all of the sacrifices? Should everyone that comes after you have to make the same sacrifices?” These encounters remind me of the old story about how far Grampa had to walk through the snow and rain to get to school each day and how we all need to suffer in order to mature and be credible.


Why should we have to wait, pay our dues and have patience in order to have an impact on our communities, clients and end product? Why shouldn’t all contributors have that opportunity? Impact is often directly linked to corporate purpose. Organizations that have a true compelling purpose can create impact for even their newest employees to connect to.


Here in lies a real problem. Organizations are saying they understand the importance of having a compelling purpose that employees can align to and feel great about. Unfortunately most organizations don’t have a true meaningful compelling purpose.  This is because they don’t really value it and don’t see the true connection to engagement, impact and performance. In some cases they simply don’t know how to get there. Usually the focus is still on profits and numbers, not on people.


The organizations that get it are making a huge difference in the lives of their employees, clients and stakeholders while having a positive impact on the environment, local community and even globally.  They create a space for the fabulous talent that Millennials have to create impact.  Yes impact at the ripe old age of 27.  My 32-year-old niece has had only one employer since leaving University and she openly states on her Facebook page regularly how she loves her employer. She posts interviews of her CEO and regularly comments on the positive impact they are having internally and globally.




Environment is a problem but let me be clear it is a problem for all employees including the 40, 50 and 60 year olds.  Anyone who thinks that the Millennials are the only ones that want to contribute, have impact, belong, fit in and work for a company that cares (bean bags and free food) is asleep at the wheel. Every leader, frontline employee and contributor we meet, regardless of age, wants the same things – they want freedom to be themselves, they want to work for an organization that notices they are human beings not employees. They want to be creative in their own unique way and they want to know that their employer is doing something meaningful with cause and purpose.  Yes, there is a small percentage of people who say, “nope, I don’t need any of these things, I simply need power and money”, but they are truly the minority.


Is it possible that the parents of Millennials were simply trying really hard to give their children what they didn’t have, a sense of self, a sense of belonging, a sense that is ok to be your quirky, unique and creative self and that seeking your dreams at all costs is ok?  Is it possible that our corporate world is really slow to adapt to the changing and evolving human being and that their expectation is still “fit in or go somewhere else?” Many corporations want employees to be open to change and to be flexible all the time. However, corporations themselves struggle to do this same thing in order to meet the needs of the evolving human being.


The evolving corporation – a New Energy Organization – understands and welcomes these changes. They know that having a meaningful compelling purpose that employees can align to is critical, not just something nice to add to their website. Creating space and time for employees to be involved and have impact on the purpose is how they engage the amazing talents of these young people.  New Energy Organizations understand and are keenly interested in the Heart/Brain connection and Neuroscience and use these new sciences as a way to truly understand the Millennials and the evolving human. Through these efforts, they create great places to work and contribute while being very profitable with long-term sustainability.


For the past 100 years, every generation has been talked about, written about, dissected, evaluated and judged. Maybe it is time that we simply accept that as a species, we are evolving and that every generation assists in this process. We should welcome the change and the inevitable push for change. Maybe we should say, “thank you Millennials for continuing to push for change and to inspire our corporations to become New Energy Organizations with purpose and meaning; where opportunities to contribute and have impact – yes impact – are plentiful.