Leading Millennials can seem challenging. Often considered entitled, narcissistic, and suffering from unrealistic expectations, Millennials have sometimes gotten a bad rap in the workplace.

However, at 80 million strong, Millennials (those born from 1980-2000) are already at critical mass in that same workplace. To excel in today's work environment, it's important to understand Millennials and how to effectively work with them.

A recent study focused on "Early Millennials", or those born between 1980-1991, and their thoughts on leadership. Asked what they most wanted from a leader, Millennials listed four distinct traits:

1. Mentoring

Millennials want feedback. But they don't just want to be told what's working and what isn't -- they want to be appreciated for what they're doing well, and coached or trained on how to improve.

As an Early Millennial myself, when I've managed other Millennials, I've done so in the way I want to be managed -- with regular feedback sessions. These don't have to take long: my last employee and I sat down at the beginning of each month for a 20-minute session.

We both came to the meeting with two lists: 1-3 things that were working well with respect to how we worked with one another, and 1-3 things we wanted more of.

I was open and straightforward with what I liked and appreciated about her work and work style, and equally as open about what wasn't working as well. I then offered concrete suggestions for how she could strengthen those things, while giving her autonomy on whether to take them (they weren't orders). Because she was given the same opportunity to give me feedback, we kept the lines of communication open.

Millennials don't necessarily want constant feedback, but they do want regular feedback -- and mentoring to learn, grow, stretch, and improve.

2. Gentle Spirit

Thankfully, the old archetype of the hostile, mean-spirited, divisive boss is dying.

Like most people, Millennials do not want discord at work, and especially not from their bosses. In fact, they're far less likely to tolerate it, and far more likely to report it to HR or otherwise shine a light on it.

Millennials want to work for respectful, flexible, grounded leaders. They particularly dislike those who are loud, divisive, disrespectful, or mean-spirited leaders. As one recent business article said, "Millennials aren't coddled--they just reject abuse as a management tactic."

3. Authenticity

When asked to describe leaders they wanted to follow, one word came up almost nonstop: "real."

Millennials came of age with technology and its accompanying onslaught of stimulation. And in a world of ubiquitous ads, commercials, and technology vying for attention, what stands out most is not perfection, but authenticity. This is why you see YouTube videos with millions of views that have absurdly low production values; Millennials don't care whether something is polished -- they care whether it's real.

Same with leadership: Millennials don't want the party line, the watered-down version of things, or the polished, perfect speech. They want to know want what's going on, and they want the truth. For example, they respect leaders who will say straight up, "We're in trouble" instead of "Well, we could use some improvements in this area."

When communicating, be honest, colloquial, and straightforward, and don't be afraid to share what's going on for you. "I'm worried" will be more arresting (in a good way) than, "This is concerning." Similarly, "I was impressed by the quality of this article" will be more impactful than, "Good job."

4. Integrity

Millennials (like most people) want leaders they can trust. They're particularly sensitive to business leaders who prioritize personal gain over serving others. They respect and want to emulate leaders who walk the talk, and who do things for more than just themselves.


While Millennials may be denigrated by some, the researchers on this study actually ended up uplifted. One even said, "Our study of this generation was one of the most encouraging research projects in which I have been involved."

His overall conclusion?

"I found great hope in the Millennials. I see great promise in many of them. And I found among them a hunger to learn from leaders they respect."