Wednesday, 15 June 2016 17:22

Do We Need a New Type of Leader for the Millennial Generation?

At Baillie Lumber, we’re starting to feel the evolution of generational change in our workforce. Like other businesses in the hardwood lumber industry, we face the challenge of demonstrating to this emerging group of employees that ours is an eco-friendly industry and that, while we’re proud of our legacy and tradition, we also embrace the use of technology in our operations and the way social media is drawing all of us closer together.

unloading-hardwood-lumberBut that is just the beginning. Leading Millennial employees in the workplace requires a blend of traditional leadership skills and the ability to adapt to the specific needs and motivation of this growing population of employees.

Here are some thoughts on how today’s leaders might want to consider molding their approach to appeal to the next generation of potential employees

Communicate principles. People in this generation are less inclined to follow their boss, simply because he or she is the boss. Rather, it’s an organization’s mission and goals that inspire them. Be prepared to communicate your company’s underlying principles—why you do what you’re doing—and abandon the idea that employees should do what you want just because you said so.

Support transparency and collaboration. Millennial employees often have ideas about business processes and objectives, which they’re happy to share in an open environment. Meetings, for example, “should be open, collaborative sessions in which everyone is encouraged to share ideas,” notes business journalist Rob Reuteman. “A good leader will know how to incorporate that input and channel it.”

Promote learning from experience. It’s a broad generalization, but many Millennials grew up playing video games where they learned to move to the next level by repeatedly “failing” before their skills improved. They often adopt a similar attitude towards the workplace, so leaders should be prepared to accept temporary setbacks as these employees become more proficient at their work.

Offer feedback – and lots of it. Millennials thrive on feedback, so effective leaders should plan to offer more guidance (not waiting on quarterly or semi-annual performance reviews, but rather monthly or more often than that). Because this generation is easily frustrated by a sense of stagnation, constructive feedback can help motivate them to make needed changes in work habits. Millennials need to feel they’re growing in their jobs and steadily broadening their skills and abilities.

Emphasize work/life balance. The concept of balancing life and work didn’t start with this generation, but Millennials fully embrace the idea and expect their employers to do so as well.

As business coach Grace Killelea notes, Millennials don’t make hard-and-fast distinctions between work and life. “They may want a ping-pong table at work to play with their co-workers, but they’ll also bring work home and maintain friendships with colleagues after hours, talking shop and organizing social events.” A culture that welcomes this approach will attract more prospective employees to its workforce.

Practice thoughtful, authentic and socially responsible leadership. Unlike prior generations of employees who may have tolerated their leader’s contradictory and sometimes hypocritical actions, Millennials are quickly alienated by such behavior. By contrast, if you display authenticity and consistency between your actions and deeds, they’ll be drawn to you and wish to work harder on your behalf.

Also, they often feel a strong sense of commitment to social causes, so work at demonstrating how your company helps to make this a better world. Leaders should emphasize a strong sense of community as a key element of their business model.

Millennials are increasingly assuming a larger role in today’s workforce. The leaders in the hardwood lumber industry who can adapt to their needs will be the most effective at inspiring and motivating them to achieve great things.

Tony Cimorelli
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