How to Prepare Millennials for Management Positions

By Hannah L. Ubl, Lisa X. Walden, Debra Arbit

Millennials can make effective managers. Imagine that you are a 55-year-old employee named Michael. You have been working at your organization for 25 years. You are loyal, ambitious, and content with your career. You’ve got a few plaques for achieving great things and proudly wear a company T-shirt when you go out. In the past year, you’ve learned that you’re getting a new manager, Ryan, who has been alive as long as you’ve been working.

For some reason(s), this situation is unsettling for Michael, but perhaps equally daunting for Ryan. Preparing Millennial leaders like Ryan for this quite common scenario will be key as you groom the next generation of leadership. Teaching Millennials to understand what it’s like for veteran employees like Michael to work for a “youngster” will be critical.

Preparing to deal with potential negativity

Michael is not alone, as more and more Boomers and Gen Xers are being managed by blossoming Millennial leaders. If only it were an easy task! Leadership and management are not easy, especially in a “managing up” scenario. As you prime Millennials to reverse the traditional flow of management, check yourself.

Getting past the “haze the freshmen” mentality

Whenever a new group enters the pack, everyone’s hackles seem to rise. It’s the discomfort of the new, the unfamiliar, and the unknown. Unfortunately, this often leads to feelings of resentment. Grumblings of “I had to work tooth and nail to get to where I am,” become rumblings of “I didn’t have anyone to help me get where I am, you figure it out.” If, as a manager yourself, this is your initial reaction to the idea of Millennial managers, there’s no need to feel bad about it. This trial-by-fire or sink-or-swim mentality goes centuries back, and it’s a way of having newbies prove that they deserve to be among the esteemed rank. If this is you,

  • Ask yourself: Who does this help? If you have wisdom and experience that can help streamline management, why would you hold back? To prove a point? No one benefits from this.
  • Simmer in the feeling privately for a few minutes. Then, compose yourself and lead the new bunch of managers. Don’t be reticent about teaching them the wisdom you’ve acquired.
  • Get ready to be a proud papa/mama/leader bear. You’ll find that one of the highest achievements you can accomplish as a leader is to be the one responsible for the next group of amazing leaders.

Dealing with the “upstart syndrome”

Beware of the “upstart syndrome.” When a younger employee is managing an older direct report, there’s always a risk of inspiring the upstart syndrome: What’s this kid doing managing me? How is she more qualified than I am? Why should I listen to her? She’s going to have to prove herself. Not everyone will feel this way, but for the ones who do, Millennials will be starting the managerial relationship at a serious disadvantage. So, do them a favor:

  • Prepare Millennial managers. You can provide the honest insight and tools for tackling this potential challenge and overcoming it.
  • Emphasize the importance of humility. The biggest favor Millennials can do for themselves is to develop a keen sense of self-awareness so that they exude humility in everything they do and say. They may feel pressured to come in as “the boss,” but this will only disengage everyone around them. Coach them on how to invite input and ask for guidance without appearing unqualified.

The best gift that you can give potential and current Millennial leaders is generational training and know-how.

Millennials managing Boomers

It’s time for a mind meld. As best you can, don your gen lens to get inside the mind of another generation. You see a feedback form written for a Millennial manager from a Baby Boomer direct report. It’s annual review time, and the Boomer is being as honest but polite as she can. If you want to challenge yourself, spot the generational collisions as you read.

Millennial managers
Source: BridgeWorks. Minneapolis, MN. (October, 2016)
Baby Boomer employee to Millennial manager review.

Here’s what you should take away:

  • Reasons Millennials will earn an A+ at managing Boomers:
  • Giving Boomers the positive and optimistic outlook they thrive on
  • Keeping Boomers involved and up-to-date on technology
  • Reasons Millennials will be on the struggle bus managing Boomers:
  • Overcoming the “you could be my kid” prejudice/uneasiness
  • Being overbearing about what technology Boomers should be using and how often
  • Approaching relationships too informally

Millennials managing Xers

While many people assume that the Boomer versus Millennial relationship is most challenging, in reality the struggles are more real between Gen Xers and Millennials, especially when it comes to management.

being a millennial manager
Source: BridgeWorks. Minneapolis, MN. (October, 2016)
Gen X employee to Millennial manager review.

Here’s what to take away:

  • Reasons Millennials will earn an A+ at managing Xers:
  • Being transparent about company decisions and direction
  • Continually streamlining workflow, making things more efficient
  • Fostering a flexible work environment for everyone
  • Reasons Millennials will be on the struggle bus managing Xers:
  • Wanting to adopt too much technology without vetting its usefulness first
  • Collaborating by default and planning work events/outings without regarding Xers’ fiercely guarded personal time
  • Finding the right balance of checking in to make the Millennial manager feel good, but also keeping the Gen Xer engaged and not feeling micromanaged