Millennials and Quintessential LeadersBefore I even get into the heart of this post, I know that all of these characteristics don’t apply to every single Millennial, and, as with every other generation, there are hybrids (for example, I’m a Thirteener – Gen X – who was raised by older Silent Generation parents, and while I identify strongly with much of what defines the key characteristics of my generation, my core principles and values are very much Silent Generation, which has often and probably will continue to put me out of sync with most of my peers) and there are exceptions to the generalized characteristics of this generation.

I know that. You know that. So no need for flames or trolling if you’re a hybrid or an exception to the general Millennial characteristics.

Millennials tend to lack the basic life skills to become successful, independent adults.

Millennials are the most pampered and protected generation of the last 100 years.

They’ve had parents who have done everything for them, from cooking a separate meal that catered just to their wants to doing homework to cleaning their rooms and their dishes and their laundry.

They have had parents who either averted negative consequences altogether (by either not imposing them at home or interfering outside home) or who have softened the blow of negative consequences to such an extent that Millennials have no idea that all actions have consequences and irresponsible or bad actions have negative consequences.

Boundaries and rules have never been in force for Millennials, so they don’t understand them (things like being on time for school and work, following through on commitments and promises, adhering to company policies, etc.) when they interact, as young adults, with the real world. Two things you’ll hear most often from these encounters are “it’s not fair” and “what does it matter if…?”

Millennials have never been taught to see things that need to be done and then to take the initiative to do them without being asked or told to do them.

All of this this has ended up making the majority of Millennials small children in adult bodies, without a clue of how to function on a basic level independently in an adult life.

Millennials tend to think in terms of singular, unconnected events instead of processes with outcomes.

Most Millennials have been saturated with virtual life through technology since the day they were born. The sad outcome of this is that Millennials believe the virtual, make-believe world they’ve been saturated with is real and the unvirtual world that actually exists and within which each of us must learn how to live and function is optional, if not altogether, irrelevant and unnecessary.

Virtual worlds are defined by singular events (look at any programming code and what you’ll see is a sequence of events depending on input) and they are in-the-moment and short-term with no final goal.

The real world, on the other hand, operates on processes (planning and execution) with outcomes (end result).

Millennials, for the most part, are completely unprepared for the real world, because processes with outcomes require critical thinking, analysis, and application of past knowledge and experience to future outcomes and goals, none of which most Millennials are equipped with as part of their life experience.

Millennials tend have a lot of knowledge – much of it random or narrow and woefully incomplete – but they don’t have a developed system for using it to accomplish anything.

Millennials love to show off how much they think they know. However, when you take the time to actually listen to them and engage them to tease out the depth of their knowledge, it’s disheartening to find that their knowledge is shallow, skewed, or completely wrong. 

It’s also discouraging to find out that most Millennials don’t know how to apply knowledge, even if bits and pieces of it are useful.

Millennials cannot abide absolute silence or absolute stillness and they cannot stand being disconnected from their virtual worlds.

Because they’ve grown up connected to a 24/7 virtual world, noise and activity – coming at them from a screen of some sort – is what is normal and comfortable for most Millennials.

Take that away and, for the most part, Millennials will, at worst, react in an almost panicky fear, or, at best, will complain about being bored.

In general, they don’t have any idea how to function or live apart from their virtual worlds. They cannot entertain themselves. Few of them read. Fewer of them regularly exercise by taking a walk or doing something outside.

They are never without an electronic device and it is the tiny god they worship and to whom they give their entire devotion and allegiance. Everything else is subservient to those devices. (It is incredibly dismaying to me to see that this particular characteristic is increasingly becoming true in all generations, especially with the advent of social media and its ubiquity in most people’s lives.)

Millennials lack ambition and a desire to succeed.

The roots of this general characteristic of Millennials are not hard to find. They have grown up in a society where they were all rewarded and celebrated for just being alive and there were no standards of achievement nor challenges of skill and ability to be met and exceeded.

It is no wonder then, that as young adults, the majority of Millennials believe the pinnacles of their existences are simply to exist and they expect to be rewarded and praised for drawing breath in someone else’s presence. 

Millennials have a mythological value system that doesn’t exist in the real world and they have a hard time adapting – if, in fact, they do – to the way life actually works.

The biggest disservice done to Millennials has been the mythological value system they’ve grown up under and which they’ve been conditioned to believe is real.

This mythological system includes these ideas:

  • There are no winners or losers
  • Everything should be fair
  • Nothing should be hard
  • Somebody else will always take care of me and fight for me
  • I’m special, so I’m deserving and entitled in everything and of everything

Everyone involved in the Millennial generation’s upbringing – parents, teachers, coaches, etc. – bears equal responsibility for instilling and perpetuating this mythological value system into this generation’s psyche.

The clash comes when most Millennials meet the real world and the real world doesn’t pander nor cater to those myths, but instead full-body slams Millennials with the way things really are in life.

Many Millennials have been so sheltered and protected from this that the majority of them don’t even know how to get back up after their first full-body slam and keep going.

Instead, they whimper, whine, and limp back home, confused, defeated (yet not realizing there really are winners and losers, and they’ve just experienced their first loss and the only way to get past it is to get back out there and try again), and often paralyzed into a life of mediocrity or worse, to become, at least for the time being, permanent wards of their parents, instead of independent and productive members of society.

It makes me sad to see this, especially from a quintessential leadership perspective. There are few potential candidates for quintessential leaders among this generation, simply because they don’t have the foundation for quintessential leadership.

Millennials are a generation of followers, for the most part, and what they follow is, many times, not real, but instead a virtual character (either in a game or in some streaming video) that leads them further down the rabbit hole and away from real life and real living.

The only remedy I see for those of us who are striving to become quintessential leaders every day of our lives in all our teams is to take the time – and effort, as challenging as it can be because we’re basically having to completely deprogram an entire generation and then teach them everything new from the ground floor up – to work with and coach the Millennials we end up with on our teams.

It’s an investment, but we should be willing to make this investment, as daunting and as frustrating at times as it can be (trust me when I say that shaking your head and talking to yourself in amazed disbelief sometimes is a normal, everyday part of this process), because in the end, we may be the only hope that the Millennial generation has to reverse what is a grim future if they continue their present path forward.

Are we willing?



  1. Brilliantly and thoughtfully articulated!


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