As strange as it may seen, “Do You Speak Boomer or Millennial?” Is a reasonable question in today’s Leadership world:
I was chatting with someone recently about the focus of my new book “Fiercely Loyal” when that person asked me, “Why would Millennials listen to you? You’re a Boomer.”
My first thought was “Because I know what I’m talking about,” but I quickly realized that was my ego reacting. (Yep, it turns out; I have one too) Seriously though, I took some time to really think about the question…because it was a great one.
Why would Millennials listen to me?
When I as a kid in the 1960s I would hear news clips of people in their early twenties at “sit-in’s” saying things like “Never trust anyone over 30.”
News Flash, everyone who ever uttered those words who is still alive is definitely over 30, and you know what, I’m betting they still want to be trusted!
You know as well as I do that trust is what gets people to listen to a leader. Despite what you might think, when people trust a leader, they will listen to what the leader has to say, regardless of the leader’s age, or gender, or race or sexual orientation.
All right, so you’re asking, what’s it going to takes for people today, specifically the Millennial Talent Pool to generate trust in leadership?
Plain and simple: Transparent Leadership!
When a leader isn’t just honest, but is totally honest, and completely frank about his or her own life, people automatically begin to trust them.
In a moment I’ll share with you an example of someone I’ve been watching over the past couple of years. But first, to have you really get what I’m sharing with you, I want to ask you a couple of questions…Okay?
The fastest growing group of people in the world are the generation known as Generation Y or Millennials. These are people who are presently 35 or younger, and they want (no, demand) transparent leadership. So let me ask you: How many Millennials do you think would trust a 77-year-old man (who is Not their grandfather) to give them advice about how to live their lives? What about a 77-year-old man who had never been married, never raised a family, and to top it off this guy has never even had a conventional job?
Now what if this man lived most of his life, not in some major US metropolis or even in a European one, but rather in small South American towns?
I’m willing to bet you’d say that the chances of him being listened to (by almost anyone, let alone Millennials) were very low.
Yet the man I’m talking about is listened to, his name is Pope Francis. Now whether you are a Catholic or not, it’s not hard to notice that in the short time that this guy has been pope, he has almost single-handedly revolutionized the way people (including Catholics) think about the Catholic Church.
Why? Because he has done what none of his predecessors had even considered:
He’s been transparent.
This wildcard pope has been saying stuff that has had believers and non-believers alike thinking “Papal transparent leadership, who is the heck is this guy?” This is particularly stunning when he says things like “Who am I to judge” with regard to people being gay.
Up until Pope Francis, the traditional idea of leadership was exemplified by the role of Pope. Popes were untouchable, put on a pedestal and held aloft from everyone else. The mantra of that old style leadership was “never let them see your humanity.” However, this pope is out there talking about his own early romances; He has openly expressed his love for football (soccer), even happily accepting his favourite team’s jersey. He wears the same black shoes he always wore. (Previous Popes wore red Prada slippers!) This guy sits and eats in a common cafeteria—all without having a “handler” tell him what to say or do.
In his words and actions, he has shown that his style of leadership is one of transparency.
So the obvious question is: Does it work?
Well you tell me. Pope Francis has received an unprecedented outpouring of love and trust from every generation. Singer Elton John calls him “My hero” and even comedian Bill Maher who is a self proclaimed atheist with an open and deep mistrust of religion says that he likes and respects “Pope Frank.”
Now, granted, not everyone agrees with everything Pope Francis says, (transparency also polarizes), but almost everyone will at least listen to him. And that, my friends, is where authentic leadership begins—getting people to listen to you. You get them to listen to you by getting them to trust that you are being honest with them about who you are and what you believe.
Pope Francis definitely appears to have gone Full Monty!
Do You Speak Boomer or Millennial?
Transparent Leadership means going Full Monty, not covering up or distancing, is particularly important when you are dealing with Millennials. They do not respond well (that’s an understatement) to dictatorial, control and command leadership.
Millennials are purpose and community driven. They love to collaborate and they are always looking for a better way and they don’t believe they have to wait. And as we’ve been discussing, they deeply value transparency.
You better know this about Millennials; they can spot a person who is trying to hide something or who isn’t what they claim to be in less time than it takes you to tweet about how authentic you are.
Unless a leader exhibits these characteristics and others that Millennials respect, they won’t listen to a word he or she says. Sure they may nod with a forced smile, but I promise you this–they are already looking to take their talent somewhere else.
So let’s go back to that question I was asked at the beginning: “Why would millennials listen to me when I’m a Boomer?” I’ll tell you why. Because I listen to them! (Something to few boomer leaders have been willing to do) Because I really get them.
You see even though I grew up within the Boomer system and its rules (even if I haven’t followed them!), the typical Millennial want the same characteristics in a leader that I personally value. Especially transparency–that’s a value on which I have based my life.
So when someone asks why should people listen to me the simple answer is because I know actually know where Boomers are coming from, but I also totally get how Millennials think and what psychologically drives them. It’s because of that that I can be a natural interpreter for both sides. In today’s fast-paced world, Millennials are coming into the workforce even faster than the 10,000 Boomers are leaving it every day. Because of that, it is vital that in organizations where there is a generational succession plan that you have a person who speaks both languages if you want that transition to be a lot easier.
Look you and I both know, the simple fact is that a transition plan can’t work if the two sides cannot understand each other.
So now if you ask me why Millennials should listen to me, I’d say it’s for the same reason that it’s an especially good idea for Boomers to listen: I know both sides and I can be the go-between. I can help leaders of all ages improve their lines of communication, become more transparent and most of all, learn how to be the kind of leader the world needs right now—no matter if they are Boomers or Millennials or, like Pope Francis, from the “greatest generation.”
I trust that you found this article valuable, if so, feel free to send this to your friends. I eagerly anticipate your feedback and comments.
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By the way, do you know the 3 D’s of Change Driving Leadership?
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