I am not going to retread the worn-out opinions about, and labels placed on Millennials. I find many of those thoughts counterproductive and divisive. There is plenty of useful research about the Millennials, just like there is for the Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, and Generation X, shared by organizations such as The Pew Research Center. I won’t be sharing that information here.
What I am going to do, however, is make a pronouncement: people are people are people. Earth-shattering, right? Unfortunately, many conversations about Millennials have lost sight of this simple fact and have turned useful research into unhealthy labels, stereotypes, and prejudices. As a nation, haven’t we already learned that shoehorning people into categories and applying labels is ill-advised and dangerous?
We need to cut through the stereotypes, prejudices, and labels and see people as people, allowing us to connect. When we connect, we will realize that people are people, and we will begin to appreciate and value different lived experiences and uniqueness. We will appreciate how our differences offer a diversity of perspectives, perceptions, and realities that makes us better: as individuals, organizations, communities, and as a country. But to do this, to genuinely connect, we must get past our assumptions.
Millennials must be just as responsible not to fall into the trap of making lazy assumptions about others. Something I had to gently remind my wife, who qualifies as an oldhead millennial, when she deadpanned while reading the rough draft of this article, “sporting the flannel and cranking Pearl Jam again, eh?” Ok, I was busted. And yes, she is Canadian. If you put those little details aside, and those hasty generalizations you just made about Canadians, her comment highlights the fact that we all hold stereotypes (and to a lesser degree that my wife fashions herself as witty).
Effective leaders understand this important fact: we all have preconceived notions of people. But instead of foolishly acting on them, they put them aside when interacting with people. This allows them to see people for who they are, genuinely getting to know the person. Effective leaders understand the perils of the self-fulfilling prophecy.
As a result, effective leaders have learned the value of being brutally self-aware, which helps them avoid setting expectations based on biases and stereotypes. Instead, effective leaders connect with people and set expectations accordingly. These expectations often result in people and teams performing at higher levels. If managers and organizations can’t move past the negative labels often associated with Millennials, then the chances of a positive outcome are minimal. The same goes for a Millennial’s view of their teams, direct reports, bosses, and organizations. Low expectations based on preconceived notions of other generations will result in poor results and toxic relationships. The self-fulfilling prophecy makes this clear: our expectations often determine the outcome.
The time has come to turn the page on the Millennial discussion. Time to move past the counterproductive and divisive biases and stereotypes. Time to stop using one-off examples to support negative preconceived notions. Let’s do what good leaders do and use data and research on generational differences for what it is, a piece of the puzzle that can help us better connect with people from different generations. It is not the whole story, just like personality profiles are not the whole story in the hiring process. Simply another bit of information to help us understand. If we remember that people are people are people, and if we make sure that we don’t let our own biases shade our expectations of others, we will be pleasantly surprised by the results.
(Adapted from the original article published by the Reading Eagle Business Weekly on 2-13-18)