Millennials get a bad rap. I have heard them called everything from "entitled narcissists" to "special snowflakes" by those who work for them, with them, or manage them. They're everywhere you look, for some, even when you look in the mirror.

Lorenzo  Tencati, a thirty-something member of YPO South Africa, trained as an industrial engineer before earning his MBA from the London Business School. After ten years in ten countries as a member of Bain & Company's Natural Resources Practice and Private Equity Group, this high-achieving millennial is now Co-founder and Executive Director of Bryanston Resources, a private equity investment firm with an in-house boutique consulting arm. Here, he draws on both his engineering background and management training to deliver seven key insights on his generation.

1. Freedom First

Tencati lists the pursuit of freedom as one of the primary characteristics of the millennial generation. "Because we live in such a -- relatively speaking -- free world, we expect to receive freedom, and we expect to find it everywhere," he says. It may be a natural impulse, but it can cause conflict in settings with stricter hierarchies. His advice on how to handle this millennial instinct? "Don't try to control them too much." Instead, capitalize on it. The millennial hunger for freedom can encourage ambition and independence. In fact, Tencati lists it as a driving factor behind his interest in running a company despite having been taught "not to be an entrepreneur for the first five years of my education." Millennials like to find their own paths. Find those whose trajectory take them your direction, and let them go!

2. Pull, Don't Push

Millennials can make great hires, but they're not always easy to recruit, especially for larger, more traditional companies. "Be transparent about what your organization is about," Tencati recommends. "Let them come to you rather than trying to sell your brand and your company to the ones you think you would like to hire." And if you're a millennial, the same advice works for you. Research places you think might make a good fit, and take the initiative. Expect hiring to be more of a conversation than a cattle call these days.

3. Go Global

Like many millennials, Tencati considers himself as an explorer. Born in Italy, he's already spent ten years in ten countries, from Israel to Australia, Sweden and South Africa. "In today's world," he told me, "you can tap into a global pool of skills and talents." For employers, he says this means "you don't need to hire your neighbors. Instead, get the best and the most fit for your organizational culture." Companies are casting a wider net, and millennials are travelling more than any other generation.

4. Show Integrity

The kids of baby boomers, millennials may reject traditional values, but they put a huge premium on their own brand of ethics. Again, Tencati emphasizes transparency. "Don't lead in one way and behave in a different way," he stresses. "It's going to break the trust." Whether you're a millennial yourself or working with them, integrity matters. Line up what you do and say. Everyone's savvier than they used to be, and the right thing is increasingly the smartest thing you can do.

5. Make the Most of Differences

When managing a team that spans generations, Tencati's early training comes into play. "You really need to almost reverse engineer the result," he tells me. Once you know what you're trying to accomplish, you can better identify "the skills that are needed to get to that result." It's not always easy, but it pays off. "I think a lot has to do with appreciation of different set of skills," he says. "You try to combine two different skill sets that are part of two different generations." Everyone has something valuable to offer when they're encouraged to play to their strengths.

6. Expect Complexity

Millennials came of age in an overload of information. "What we had to learn -- and what we can bring to the table -- is an ability to simplify life to the essential," Tencati says. This makes good sense in the context of history. "Think about brain power as being exactly the same throughout generations, but the amount of information today in a week is pretty much the amount of information that people would intake in a lifetime at the beginning of the 19th century. If your brain doesn't change, your attitude about what really matters is a skill that you train a lot." Take advantage of this skill. If you're a millennial, make it available to others. If you're hiring or working with millennials, lean on them for their ability to radically simplify the deluge of information. "In the end," Tencati points out, "the litle things are a big contributor to your quality of life." If you can't identify them, you can't take care of them.

7. Offer Challenges

"Mix teams," Tencati suggests, "and throw people into the deep end together to really come up with the best result." Millennials like a challenge, and tend to rise to them. In fact, Tencati recommends "a very tough challenge" as a way to show employees appreciation. Millennials may not all be special snowflakes, but they are unique. Engineer a challenge for them or for yourself, and expect to see them shine.

Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside YPO, the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.

Published on: May 26, 2017
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