Management Advice from a Challenge-the-Process Millennial

9/16/2014 12:00 AM ,

There’s a lot being said about my generation, the so-called Millennials. We are 80 million strong and make up approximately 24% of the U.S. population. And by 2025? The Brookings Institute indicates that number will be 75%! Add to that, a U.S. Chamber Foundation report that suggests we have the ideas and innovative qualities of successful entrepreneurs, and that with more guidance and encouragement “this entrepreneurial spirit may just run free and do its part in creating more jobs and helping rescue the economy.”

So what does that mean for fellow Millennials like me who are just getting to know the world of work through internships and summer jobs? And what does it mean for those who would employ us?

Several years ago, I was introduced to the work of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge and The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model. One of the Practices I have most identified with as a Millennial is Challenge the Process. It seems to me that young professionals like me thrive on experimenting and taking risks, and taking the initiative every chance we get to find innovative ways to improve how things are done. But I know this doesn’t always sit well with many managers in business today. In fact, a 2014 survey of Millennials by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited highlighted the fact that over half of Millennials feel the organizations they work for don’t encourage outside-the-box thinking and 63% of those Millennials blame management. In their opinions, management’s risk-adverse mentality, reluctance to collaborate with third parties, and over-reliance on existing products kills their creative tendencies.

Challenge the Process

“One of the Practices I have most identified with as a Millennial is Challenge the Process.”

Perhaps my most recent summer internship with one of the world’s largest retailers can offer some worthwhile lessons to today’s managers on how to keep us Millennials engaged. In addition to benefiting from our drive to Challenge the Process, there also are ways managers can incorporate the other Practices of Kouzes and Posner’s model to bring innovation to the workplace.

From the very first day of orientation, I and my fellow interns were introduced to the theme of our brief work stints: innovate. This company wanted us, with our baby-fresh perspectives and empty slates of work experience, to take in-tact systems that senior-level executives had created and bend them until they broke. That was a heady challenge but in a variety of small yet meaningful ways, we took it on. In particular, my experience introducing Prezi to my team’s weekly meetings shows the importance of constant engagement, mixing work and social life, and honest communication in order to create an innovative environment for Millennials.

My team’s weekly meetings were bland to put it nicely. I had heard it described by coworkers as a “necessary evil” with its cluttered PowerPoint® slides and robotic rhythm. I wanted to take the villainy out of our team time, and two weeks into my internship I was given the opportunity to lead the meeting. After talking with my manager, we decided to add some color to the meeting with an interactive Prezi presentation. Prezi is a service that offers an alternative to PowerPoint with playful themes and easy-to-use movement and features. The process of introducing Prezi appealed to me as a Millennial in these ways:

Constant Engagement: Because Prezi was a tool I was unfamiliar with and had to learn quickly, this project kept me constantly engaged. Plus, my manager assigned a number of other projects that gave me a full but manageable work schedule.

As a manager, helping Millennials develop competence—as Kouzes and Posner describe in the Practice Enable Others to Act—is key to successful engagement. Be sure to keep your young employees busy with work, while not overburdening them. One suggestion is to assign Millennials (or allow them to choose, as I did during my internship) a long-term backup project to work on whenever they have free time. This project should not be time sensitive but should be interesting. This way they can stay engaged at all times even when there are no immediate projects to work on.

Mixing Work and Social Life: As part of my Prezi presentation, I included a montage of pictures of our team members outside of work. We had had a large shareholders’ meeting the week before, and team members submitted photos from that event and others to be included. This glimpse into our teammates’ personal lives was refreshing. With social media like Facebook and LinkedIn blending work and social lives already, Millennials expect that same blend to occur in the workplace itself. It’s important for some Millennials to feel that their coworkers or managers connect with them on a personal level as much as they do on a professional level. For example, my manager really Encouraged the Heart by telling me about trips with her husband to California and texting me during World Cup matches to vent her frustrations about Team USA’s performance. Millennials feel comfortable and motivated in blended work/social environments and can better produce results if their managers create one.

Honest Communication: Before finalizing my Prezi, I ran it by my manager who provided excellent feedback on how to tailor it specifically to the personalities on our team. She truly Modeled the Way, and I appreciated the constructive criticism. It made me even more effective communicating my point during the presentation.

Many Millennials like me crave honest feedback. It helps us develop as leaders. As a manager, don’t be afraid to be (respectfully) blunt with your young employees in order to get the best ideas out of them. However, positive feedback must be made just as loudly as constructive feedback. Some managers can forget to appreciate employees for accomplishments and focus more on the areas for improvement. This may not work well for Millennials who prefer hearing both the good and bad. An example of positive recognition in my office—and a great example of how to Encourage the Heart—was when my team awarded me the “Everything is Awesome” award. This award, a Lego® trophy with a smiling Lego man on it, recognized my work with Prezi and other projects. I was surprised and grateful to receive the award, and I plan on working even harder to keep a high standard of work.

My presentation went very well, thanks to a great team and a manager who effectively engaged in so many of The Five Practices. I’m even slated to present a Prezi on how to use Prezi so that other team members can use it in the future.

Although a small challenge to the status quo, my Prezi “innovation” has helped our team maintain engagement and increase retention during presentations. I hope to contribute more change in the future by staying constantly engaged, feeling comfortable in a blended work/social atmosphere, and receiving honest feedback.

Millennials are a new challenge for management. But as a manager, if you can remember The Five Practices when working with Millennials you can help create a workforce that can change the future of corporate America for the better.

Alec Loeb
Alec Loeb
is a Millennial entering his senior year at the Kenan Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He can be reached at Alec_Loeb@Kenan-Flagler.unc.edu.

Category: Success Stories

What they are saying...

"Why wait to learn leadership in the workplace? Students can learn how to lead by using Kouzes and Posner's five proven leadership practices. [This] is the perfect guide for...[those] seeking to develop themselves for leadership."
– Howard T. Prince II
University of Texas, Austin

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– Corey Hill
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– Cathy Early
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– Amanda Crowell Itliong
Stanford University

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– William L. Kibler
Mississippi State University
NASPA Journal, 2009, Vol. 46, no. 4

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Nyack College, NY

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Texas A&M International University

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Texas A&M International University

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Delaware Valley College, PA

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– Kevin Bailey, vice president for student affairs
University of West Florida

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"Beth and Gary are so personable that I was totally comfortable asking anything. For a program with such vigor, these two facilitators do an amazing job of creating a safe, fun, and functional learning environment."
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"The Student Leadership Challenge is a gift to university educators who teach leadership courses or develop trainings, workshops, and retreats."
– Laura Osteen
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"Developing transformative learning environments for leadership education begins when we embrace the use of emerging technologies and social media to enhance student learning."
– Todd Foley, assistant director for the Student Involvement Center
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– Vince Bellafiore
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"We know that The Student Leadership Challenge is making a difference. Through continuous coaching and intervention, with the use of the Student LPI, we are helping to keep our young people engaged in the pursuit of exemplary leadership."
– Melvin Chia
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"Consider the college campus as a leadership laboratory—a place where students have multiple opportunities to practice their leadership skills and explore and develop their leadership identity.
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– Marcy Levy Shankman
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"I am so passionate about leadership and making a difference and I truly, honestly, wholeheartedly believe in The Student Leadership Challenge model. It is complete, yet simple enough, for all to understand. SO very excited to share this model with others, both on-campus and in the community.
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– Suzanne Von Behren, RN, BSN, University Wellness Services
Northwest Missouri State

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"I feel that a program like this could really work in helping to eventually change our culture within our schools, homes, and businesses. Although I am not a supervisor, I plan to implement the model fully in our office and look forward to sharing it with coworkers. I love The Student Leadership Challenge model and am so excited!
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– Suzanne Von Behren, RN, BSN, University Wellness Services
Northwest Missouri State

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"The Student Leadership Challenge is one of the most robust teaching and learning opportunities we have as educators. The Five Practices are identifiable and learnable skills allowing an individual to improve by receiving feedback and observation and by setting goals.
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– Jason R. Pierce, director of education
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What they are saying...

"And so again [leadership development] becomes foundational, it becomes a foundational understanding of living your values, of challenging the process to make things better, enabling others to act. It’s not just delegating, it’s about giving people the passion and the power to it themselves.
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– Matt Baker, Vice President of Student Affairs
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"Within the academy, we are constantly seeking additional tools to assist us in teaching the valuable lesson of leadership development for students. The Student Leadership Challenge is an excellent resource to assist in the important goal of helping students to become better leaders and, ultimately, stellar citizens in the communities of the world.
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– Victor K Wilson, vice president for student affairs
The University of Geogia

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"Student leadership challenges are quite similar to adult challenges, and yet they differ as wel­­l– in scale and in the power of peer perspective. Kouzes and Posner have constructed a wide and sturdy bridge across these worlds. My college students will find relevant lessons and great inspiration in the diverse and compelling stories that are retold. We’d have a lot less adult leadership problems if more teachers and students used this great book.
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– Dan Mulhern, Distinguished Practitioner of Law and Business
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– Jennifer R. Keup, director
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"The Five Practices has provided a framework for students to reflect on their leadership experience and restructure their philosophy and theories relating to leadership as they challenge themselves through these five practices.
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– Amy Kuo, Somchanhmavong, associate director
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BOLD Leadership Program, Cornell University

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"In our public service leadership programs and courses we will be able to easily use the many relevant and engaging activities and reflection exercises provided in this workbook. It will enable our students to better engage with and benefit from The Student Leadership Challenge, and will also help foster their personal leadership development journeys."
– Jon McConnell, associate director,
Haas Center for Public Service, Stanford University

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– Randy D. Grimes, human resources director
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– Kimberly Piatt, coordinator of leadership development
The College at Brockport.

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"An excellent one-stop resource for activities to engage student of different learning styles. Students will find the experiential nature of the activities easy to comprehend and most importantly be able to see the relevance and application of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership."
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– Laura Osteen, professor of higher education, Florida State University
and director, Florida State’s Center for Leadership and Civic Education

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