It wasn't long ago that the basketball world was resigned to the idea that Stephen Curry would never be any more than a talented shooter whose weaknesses (his small size and oddly turning ankles) would define him. And yet here we are in 2016: Curry is the defending league MVP and NBA champion (with a second MVP award coming in a matter of days). What if I told you Curry isn't the only Millennial who others have tried to limit because of a perceived weakness?
It takes only a few moments on Google to come to the conclusion that Millennials appear to be struggling. Whether they're under attack for lacking skills or being diagnosed with psychological issues, the cards seem to be stacked against them in ways unique to their generation. And many are quick to define them by their weaknesses.
But despite any doomsday prognostications you may hear, the truth is that there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Millennials, like every generation before them, have their strengths and their weaknesses. And it's up to good leaders to help Millennials be their best selves, their inner Steph Curry. Here are seven habits of leaders who know how to motivate Millennials:
1. Push, don't pacify. To be clear, I'm not actually encouraging anybody to push anyone. Millennials do not approve of physical altercations. But the point is, Millennials are no different than anyone else: Integrity, hard work, and determination are their keys to success. And just like anybody else, they need to be inspired to do better, improve, and grow in their careers.
Pacifying your Millennial employees may bring short-term satisfaction, but it could lead to long-term dissatisfaction, decreased productivity, and (eventually) failure. Many business leaders today feel they need to coddle their Millennial employees, tell them they're special five times a day, and tuck them in at night. This is far from the truth.
It's not that Millennials don't think they're special, because they certainly do. But in their minds, being special doesn't make you great--doing special thingsmakes you great. So, it's OK to expect great things out of them (and tell them so).
2. Focus on teamwork. An organization is a chorus. Every part--from Millennials to Baby Boomers--must blend well with the whole, and if anyone is taken out or doesn't blend, you hear it (and that's a problem). And undue favoritism toward any group cripples culture. Organizations that avoid these pitfalls will thrive--and that success will make you as attractive to Millennials as much as anything else.
That's not to say that it doesn't make sense to offer the perks Millennials desire (work flexibility, professional development, focus on work culture, etc.), but notice that these are universally useful perks that, when they fit, make whole organizations better. Not just one group.
Millennials want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and they want to learn from those who have gone before. In fact, they crave mentorship. Make sure to assign mentors who will integrate Millennials into a larger team and help them appreciate their colleagues.
3. Practice candor. Transparency is key with Millennials. They need to feel like they're getting the whole truth. Millennials' internal lie detectors are especially powerful. Don't bother to act phony or disingenuous with them because they'll see right through it, and it'll all but destroy your relationship (and credibility) with them.
Take advantage of their desire for candor and let Millennials know precisely what you expect from them. Good leaders invite Millennials to step up, contribute, and bring all their good to the team. And the kinds of Millennials worth keeping can take constructive criticism. In fact, like any other achiever, it fuels them.
But your candor must come from an honest place. Remember, lie detectors. Before you are candid with Millennials, be honest with yourself. Do you genuinely care about them and their careers? Do you respect them? If the answer is ever no, it's time to make some changes.
4. Encourage hard work. As fun as games and downtime might sound to some Millennials at first, they will eventually feel unfulfilled, which will lead to unhappiness. As Mike Rowe put it, "People with dirty jobs are the happiest people." To paraphrase him: The hardest-working people are the happiest people.
This doesn't mean the people who work the longest hours. In fact, Millennials prize work-life balance much more than previous generations. What this really means is that while your employees are on the job, get them working. The harder people work, the more invested they become in the process. They'll be happier for it, and your organization will be much more productive.
Encourage Millennials to develop an internal locus of control and a great work ethic. By showing employees they can get what they want through hard work and instilling in them the belief that nothing great comes from easy processes, you'll equip them with the single most important tool: a determination to get the job done well.
5. Stay on an even plane. Millennials don't want a parent-child relationship with their bosses, and they don't like traditional hierarchies. Be aware of this as you interact with them. Leaders don't have to make their entire organization flat to satisfy Millennials, but it is important to treat them as peers.
So, treat them with respect and foster an environment where their ideas are valued. If they believe their ideas matter, they will be much more engaged and willing to contribute--and they'll respect you. And frankly, you do need their ideas. They often know things that their older colleagues don't--especially around media and tech.
As you assign mentors, keep in mind Millennials' desire for relationships of mutual respect. This doesn't mean you can't ask an older employee to mentor a Millennial. But it does mean you'll be better off to assign a mentor who genuinely cares for the new employee; people who know how to listen much more than they give advice.
6. Never stereotype. Many employees take offense to being labeled stereotypical Millennials (lazy, egocentric, etc.). Like any other group of people, Millennials are diverse. Every one of them is a unique person with unique work attributes, characteristics, and attitudes.
Your job is to find the Millennials who fit your culture. Then, it is your responsibility to treat every employee equally and give them all the benefit of the doubt until proved otherwise. And if you have a Millennial who just isn't cutting it, it's an indictment on that individual, not a whole generation of people.
And beware of self-fulfilling prophecies. If you act like someone is lazy, for example, the person might just start acting lazy. Assume the best, and more times than not the best will win out.
7. Focus on value, not money. You probably have an uncle who loves to go on about how "kids these days just don't care." But I've got news for you: They care. In fact, Millennials care a lot about doing something meaningful with their time, and they value a sense of purpose at work more than previous generations.
So, don't talk to Millennials so much about how they can make the most money. Talk about how they can create the most value. Help them see the big-picture value your organization is creating if you want them to give you their all. To be clear, Millennials want the money (who doesn't?), but if you make that the focus, it won't resonate with them.
In fact, Millennials consider meaningful work more important than high pay. Give them purpose in their work and money concerns won't matter as much. How's that for a win-win situation?
If you paid close attention, you might have noticed that each of the seven points can be applied universally, not exclusively to Millennials. Just because it often makes sense to manage Millennials differently than other employees, it doesn't mean you have to reinvent the wheel on good management. And your culture doesn't need to be custom-tailored to the every whim of your Millennial employees. You just need to communicate to them in their language and help them see the vision of your organization more clearly. If you do this, your Millennial employees will thrive, and your organization's future will be bright. And you'll have a whole team full of Stephen Currys.