All leaders need the superstar--that one person with the special knowledge or unique ability. Superstars may be one of your scarcest resources. The out-of-the-box thinkers, the immensely talented individuals drive innovation. But they come with their ego and needs. Some are self-contained. Some are self-assured. Some are shy. Every generation has its superstars, but among Millennials, deserving or not, there is a superstar mindset. Your challenge in working with Millennial superstars is to give them the space they need and to celebrate who they are without letting them become loose canons.

Ego, one-upmanship, and turf paranoia can interfere in the relationship between the leader and the Millennial superstar, turning a potentially productive alliance into a drawn-out feud that saps momentum from the team, department, or the larger business.

To avoid conflict spirals and ensure a collaborative, fruitful relationship with your Millennial superstar, consider the following:

1. Admit your limitations and avoid the ego game

As an accomplished leader, you have to know your limitations. Don't let your limitations scare you. Never let the realization of what you can and cannot do result in an ego game between you and the Millennial superstar.

Leaders fall into the ego trap when their confidence tips into arrogance. When dealing with superstars, leaders must come to terms with gaps in their knowledge and ensure that their ego does not become enmeshed in the tactics and goals of the business at hand.

When the leader's ego takes up too much space, objectivity is killed and the issues become muddled. Your priority is to work to build relationships by engaging in authentic dialogue with your Millennial superstars.

2. Be open to learning

They may be younger than you, brighter than you, and even faster than you. But you've got more experience. Be secure in yourself and listen.

It is the leader's job to listen, reflect, and, above all, learn from the experiences and opinions of the organization's superstars. Working side-by-side with a Millennial superstar with a great deal of education, creativity, or energy is an opportunity. If you make the effort to learn from your Millennial superstar, you are engaging in a very important part of the collaborative process.

3. Embrace new ideas

Millennial superstars will toss out new ideas at a frenetic pace. They will want to throw it on the wall before it's half-baked. That is their way of being creative. To sustain that creativity you must guard against the reflexive, immediate negative reaction.

"No" is a common refrain for leaders who are worried about turf. New ideas, agendas, and initiatives threaten to push them into new territory where they may feel stranded and vulnerable.

Before resorting to the quick, negative knee-jerk reaction to new ideas, think about what could right with the idea, instead of focusing on what could go wrong.

4. Show them appreciation

The Millennial superstar has a lot of bravado and panache. Beneath it, like all of us, they crave gentle appreciation. They may be uncomfortable by it, but they'll be motivated by it. No one wants to feel taken for granted and you can't always assume that your Millennial superstars are consistently well rewarded, recognized, and appreciated.

However, there is a line between celebrating and worshipping. Good leaders know how to balance appreciation so superstars are applauded, but not venerated. Smart leaders ensure ceremonies and celebrations are not empty of meaning, but not overdone so they lose value or importance. You have to find the right balance to sustain energy, engagement, and momentum over the long-term.

5. Give autonomy, but define parameters

Millennial superstars can easily become lone rangers--doing whatever they want, whenever they want. It is your job to define the Millennial superstar's broad objectives and goals while ensuring a degree of freedom.

In trying to sustain momentum, leaders have to keep in mind one of the cardinal rules of keeping people engaged: People want autonomy, but they also need parameters and limits. Managerially competent leaders, who know how to sustain momentum, do both. They know when to routinize through job descriptions and detailed specifications. You need to know when to give your Millennial superstars autonomy and make the job as flexible as possible.

As a deeply grounded member of the baby-boom generation, I've had the opportunity to work with a number of Millennial superstars. My challenge was to prove to them that I knew what I was talking about and that I was more knowledgeable. Then, the learning process began. My challenge was finding a way that I could work with them. What I needed was to find a way of partnering. I learned it was important to give them the space while not undervaluing what I wanted to do or what I thought was important. Leading a Millennial superstar is no different than working with anyone else. It requires thoughtful, mindful behavior that recognizes your strengths and limitations, and the strengths and limitations of your Millennial superstars.

Published on: Jan 14, 2016
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