In the past two weeks, I have seen Simon Sinek's viral video explaining all-that-is-wrong-with-Millennials in my Facebook feed an unnecessary number of times. And it has been interesting seeing my peers, fellow Millennials, agree and disagree, feel understood and feel misunderstood. Sinek clearly hit a note.
For those who don't know much about Simon Sinek, he is the author of what has become a must-read book in the business and entrepreneurship space, Start With Why.
I have read Sinek's prized book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found it to be a solid read on leadership and a great reminder of what it means to inspire true action in others. If you haven't read it, here's the synopsis from Amazon:
"Sinek starts with a fundamental question: Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? Why do some command greater loyalty from customers and employees alike? Even among the successful, why are so few able to repeat their success over and over? People like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers had little in common, but they all started with WHY. They realized that people won't truly buy into a product, service, movement, or idea until they understand the WHY behind it."
Now, here's why that is oh-so-ironic:
Sinek is completely right. When it comes to leadership and building a meaningful organization, it is imperative that you start with WHY. The meaning and intention behind what you do is what inspires the hearts and minds of others.
However, in his viral talk and clean-cut description of Millennials -- in a way that felt rather "wrapped in a perfect bow," as if all had been explained and we could all move forward knowing the answers now -- he left out one key detail:
The very question that prompts much of the older generations' criticisms of the Millennial generation is the same question Sinek wrote an entire book encouraging leaders of organizations to ask themselves:
The question "Why?" is, when asked by young people in the work force, what tends to be met with opposition.
"Do this spreadsheet report this way." --"Why?"
"Follow these rules." --"Why?"
"You can't execute that idea, it won't work." --"Why?"
And Millennials who ask the question "Why?" don't ask it to be rebellious. Or to be a pain. Or to skip all the hard work because we're impatient -- which Sinek effortlessly explained to be the result of our parents simply giving us too many participation awards. (Which confuses me because I have zero participation awards sitting on my dresser back at the house I grew up in.)
Millennials ask "Why?" because we grew up in an age in which we could. Why would we just put our heads down and grind forward when we see, every single day, on every single media channel, the value of asking "Why?" We scroll through our Instagram feeds and see 20-year-old millionaires who preach asking the question "Why?" and not being afraid to go your own way and find your own answers. We go to YouTube and hear even the older generations of successful entrepreneurs talk about how, back when they were our age, everybody said they were wrong when they asked the question "Why?" But they stuck to their guns and trusted their instincts.
Millennials don't ask this question out of impatience. We ask "Why?" because we genuinely want to help. We want to provide value. We want to do things better. We want to improve. We see the tools at our fingertips and cannot fathom why anyone wouldn't be interested in finding better, faster, smarter ways to do things.
But authority doesn't like this question very much, because it triggers a sudden thought that maybe the way they've been doing things isn't the right way, or the only way. And what hides beneath that initial feeling of frustration or anger is actually fear. And who can blame them? It would be terrifying to have been in an industry for 20, 30, 40 years, and all of a sudden have a 20-something stroll in and question the foundation of everything you do. I understand that, and have compassion for it.
But it's a two-way street. So if the older generation wants to be understood, then realize we, as Millennials, wish to be understood, too.
The Millennial generation isn't impatient, or simply plagued by a social-media addiction. Sure, we have our moments (just like 50-somethings do, scrolling their hours away on Facebook in their living rooms). But the truth is, the Millennial generation is extremely self-aware. Millennials care -- a lot. We want to be part of something meaningful. We want to make a difference.
Where Sinek makes a faulty sidestep in his all-encompassing monologue on our generation -- which, truly, I believe he intended to be an activism toward actually understanding and empowering Millennials -- is in putting the blame on corporate environments and poor leadership. And while that might be true in some cases, it also makes Millennials seem like helpless victims.
Sinek says, and I quote, "In their entry-level job, I sit down with them and I ask, 'How's it going?' and they go, 'I think I'm going to quit.' And I'm like, 'Why?' And they go, 'I'm not making an impact.' I'm like, 'You've been here eight months.'"
That's when the crowd laughs, and that's where I, as a Millennial would say, "Yeah, if I was there for eight months and nobody acknowledged the things I was bringing to the table, then I would go find somewhere else that did."
To old-school leadership, this is a case-in-point sign of impatience.
To me, it's common sense. Why would I spend my valuable time, in a world where options and communications are essentially limitless, in an environment that didn't value me in some sense?
This is the great debate, and the issues, to be frank, go much deeper than just workplace satisfaction. "Making an impact" doesn't mean we need to be solving world hunger on a daily basis. But I know a whole lot of Millennials that would feel a hundred times more understood if their daily tasks were acknowledged and explained as part of a bigger vision. Millennials are doers. We want to do things. And if that daily habit of doing and being involved isn't there, then we're going to go find somewhere else to spend our time. Because we watched our parents plug and chug their way through life, only to get to the end and say, "Don't forget to enjoy the journey. We didn't do that very well."
We want to enjoy our journey. We want to make an impact, yes on something bigger than ourselves but also within our daily lives as well. It's not the thing itself (that's where everybody gets confused). It's how it's done that we care about.
Sinek is smart. He said a lot of things that are right. But I believe we, as Millennials, are more than capable of continuing to move forward effectively -- we are not the socially inept, debilitatingly self-conscious generation Sinek explains us to be.
But, to all my fellow Millennials, it's worth knowing what you're walking into.
The question, "Why?" is what will get you the most backlash.
But it is also your greatest asset.
And Sinek should know that better than anyone. You have to Start With Why.