Guest post: Peter McGuiness, new employee of a growing startup and a real-life millennial, reflects on how the word "millennial" intimidates some - and why it shouldn't. Peter McGuiness is a pseudonym.
I rode the rickety elevator to the third floor of a dingy little building. I had pressed floor three but the light was broken so whether I would actually get there was entirely a gamble. Not wanting to seem too formal, I wore a patterned button down and a pair of jeans. When the doors opened to my new office and I discovered that this outfit put me in the top percentile of best dressed, I strode in.
It was an open floor plan, with exposed brick and exposed wires, and a table dedicated to jigsaw puzzles--all the start-up boxes checked. An office of bearded, barefooted, and blithe individuals all under thirty, save one. A modern office.
Starting the new job was the first of two big life events last week. I also turned 21 - a legal adult and card-carrying member of the millennial generation, a group who will soon inherit the future, welcoming it into our greasy little hands. "Inherit" is the proper word; “millennial" conjures images of a lazy band of hippies waiting for handouts, donning Bernie 2016 t-shirts. But I don’t consider myself a millennial. I think of myself as somehow deeper or different, the one to prove them all wrong. And so does everyone else.
Soon after my arrival, the company sent out for barbecue and beer. Everyone lined up for the free food; I found myself gravitating towards a coworker who also went to NYU, and was of a similar age. Our conversation was only ended when our CEO pulled up his chair. Though a young CEO (no more than 50), he looked out of place. He wore shorts and he was in a pair of Nikes, but it wasn't the clothes that set him apart, it was the way he wore them. They were a costume. A wolf in sheep's clothing.
“The city?” he led with. I waited for him to continue, but nothing else came. He let his words hang for effect.
As my coworker turned to me in confusion, I got an instant read on the CEO. If my new company was a big family, that man was our step father. He brought home the bacon but he was the perpetual outsider. Part of me felt bad as he squirmed in his cargo shorts constantly tugging at the hems. He really was trying his best to fit in - and that’s just the problem.
Millennials in the workplace intimidate people, even though none of us really considers ourself a millennial. No one wants to be the cartoonishly idiotic rube in the office who wants it all without doing anything. At the end of the day though, that’s all of us. The classic idea of the millennial both does not exist and yet is present in every generation past and those yet to come.
There will always be lazy people. There will always be driven people. Getting in touch with the millennial generation is not about motivating an alien race. It's like leading anyone else that you’ve led throughout your entire career. You may not watch the same television shows, but that’s fine. You work in an office; no one is forcing you to digest the week in cable programming.
My CEO floundered because he was reaching out to the idea of the millennial, not the actual human being in front of him (who, at that moment was trying to wolf down enough free food to justify not spending money on dinner that night).
To lead a millennial is to lead anyone. You inspire them with your actions, you trust them with responsibility, and you guide them when they need it. To treat someone in the millennial generation as a “Millennial” is to offend them, alienate them, and ultimately lose them. You likely will never compete with a twenty-year old on the happenings of meme culture, but that’s fine because they don’t want that from you.
What they want, what I want, is someone who takes my ideas seriously, listens, and gives me feedback. The new generation is full of the same driven, great minds, as any other. Will they all be that way? Absolutely not. But even “The Greatest Generation” had its share of draft dodgers.
TL;DR: Millennials are humans, act accordingly.