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Leadership for the Millennials

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jamie Dermer
  • 6th Operation Support Squadron commander
Recently I returned from a conference which focused extensively on leadership. Throughout the week, we discussed a wide range of leadership perspectives, but one speaker's message really struck me as timely.

The discussion centered on how the "Millennial generation" thinks and communicates. The Millennials, also known as "Generation Y" or the "iGen," were born after 1980 and definitely have a set of attributes very different from the World War II or Baby Boomer generations.

These differences keep leading me back to a single question. Can the same style of leadership span generations and still be effective on a text messaging, instant gratification, technology focused group?

As most of us have experienced, traditional leadership principles such as developing a vision, caring for your Airmen, executing the mission, maintaining a positive attitude, leading by example, listening, empowering, and being fair and consistent have proven valuable to nearly every leader. This list is far from comprehensive, but simply taking the time to truly understand our people goes a long way toward moving our organizations forward.

There is no doubt Millennials respond to different motivation factors. They are the most highly educated and diverse generation yet and that's where their advantage lies. Unlike any previous group, this generation's strength lies in its diversity. Not only are Millennials formally educated, but they're constantly seeking information from alternative mediums that older generations typically bypass, ignore or don't even know exist. If you're over 40, ask yourself when the last time you posted to a blog, updated your Facebook page, tweeted someone or relied on Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert for your news.
We must be prepared to communicate in an environment where e-mail is considered outdated and PowerPoint is code for nap time, yet also recognize the inherent vulnerabilities of completely embracing technology and becoming further disconnected.
Of course a proven cookie cutter approach to leading Millennials has yet to be discovered, but caring for them as individuals and finding common ground is highly beneficial. They'll work hard when appreciated and even harder when their supervisor takes the time to provide feedback. However, more than with any other generation, providing the initial motivation and properly framing the task is absolutely critical. People must understand their job and its importance to the unit mission in a manner in which they can personally relate.

One commonly held belief by Millennials is they don't have the power to change anything. Yet by empowering our Airmen, we take a huge step toward minimizing this misperception and simultaneously fighting a healthy dose of cynicism. There are several benefits to allowing a person to spread their wings on a project. By assigning accountability, our Airmen can take pride in a job well done or be confronted directly with areas needing improvement.

The Millennials are truly a gifted bunch, and as with any generation it takes a good leader to fight through stereotypes and adapt to the resources at hand. There's a lot to be gained by harnessing the power of a well educated, multi-tasking, technology savvy force. C U on Facebook!

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