1. A Priori

Before you entrust your career to our advice, it is important that we let you know the background for this book and our qualifications for writing it. A student once asked me, “What qualifies you to teach this class?” It is a great question and deserves a reasoned response—and you might want to know the answer since you have plopped down the money to buy our book, invest the time to read it, and contemplate our advice.

We have been studying Millennials since they entered the workforce. Chip’s doctoral dissertation was titled Millennial Integration: Challenges Millennials Face in the Workplace and What They Can Do About Them. He published Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce in 2010 and followed it with [email protected]: The 7 Skills Every Twenty-Something (and Their Manager) Needs to Overcome Roadblocks and Achieve Greatness in 2014. Millennials Who Manage combines years of research and experience that will give you insight into how older workers perceive younger workers, competencies that are critical to managing your peers, challenges you face when managing people older than you, and potential roadblocks you may face when trying to advance to the next level.

From the outset, it is important for you to understand that our work is not a conversation about Millennials but rather a conversation with Millennials. Our mission has been to help create work environments in which Millennials can thrive. We love Millennials! The love affair started while teaching a course called Management Theory and Practice at the undergraduate level. We noticed a difference between our students in the 1990s and our students in the early 2000s. We noticed several differences, but one that especially stood out was that Millennials entered the classroom with the idea that everything is negotiable; they expected to have a voice with respect to assignments, absences, and even grades. While other faculty members experienced their students’ desire to have a voice as off-putting, we recognized that Millennials wanted to succeed and desired to actively participate in the educational process. They wanted—sometimes even demanded—to be engaged. What more could a professor ask for?

It is one thing to notice a shift in student values and behaviors but quite another to commit personal resources and time to studying the phenomenon. The catalyst for committing wholeheartedly to the topic was one of Chip’s classes flipping an assignment on him. The course was an elective listed as Emerging Management Theory. The goal of the course was to get students to realize that the subject of management is sexy—meaning management is not a static subject. It is incredibly dynamic because of the constant change in people, organizations, and the work environment. Also, management is the study of many different disciplines, including, among others, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. The students were encouraged to identify and write about what they considered an emerging challenge in the workforce and what they would do about it. The example Chip used at the beginning of the semester was what he viewed as the challenge of managing a generationally diverse organization. At the end of the semester, the students inspired (some would say provoked) Chip to actually begin researching and writing on the topic. The unmitigated truth is that his students were the catalyst for the work that led to the creation of this book and the two listed previously, all involving managing a multigenerational workforce.

Our ambition is for the voice of this book to be conversational and an easy read. Admittedly, it is a challenge writing in both the academic and business worlds. Some see academia as being “out of touch,” while others argue that acting without critical systematic inquiry is “irresponsible.” There can be tremendous value in both, and we see them as interdependent: Good theory informs good practice, and good practice informs good theory. We strive to be true to both worlds.

Why Read Millennials Who Manage?

We believe this book will resonate with you because it invites your engagement with the subject—you. People sometimes say that young managers are blank slates because they have less experience than older managers. But we don’t visualize you as a blank slate on which we are writing. Nor are we concerned with convincing you to adopt our lens. You have a myriad of experiences and ideas that are already shaping your leadership perspective. Perhaps you have only recently hit the management ranks, but you have led in other contexts and also observed good and bad management. Those experiences are what Bruce Avolio refers to as the context of leadership learning—a person’s life stream. He defines the life stream as the representation of events you accumulate from birth to the present that shapes how you choose to influence yourself and others. He reasons, “Keeping in mind the concept of one’s life stream helps to keep leadership development in a state of becoming, until all of our streams, so to speak, run dry.”1 Hopefully, your leadership learning and development will be a lifelong process.

The intent of this book is to contribute to your life stream and ultimately to your effectiveness as a managerial leader. There will be some “how to,” but there will be a lot more “how to be.” Our hope is that while you are reading, you can immediately think of how to integrate your own thinking and person into what we are saying. It is through this process that your self-concept as a leader will become more defined and ultimately shape the framework for developing, organizing, and implementing your leadership skills.

A lot of early leader development literature placed the leader’s primary focus on the follower. The objective was to teach the leader how to get the follower to do what she wanted him to do. The challenges of leading in today’s world have caused, if not demanded, a shift in how we approach leader development. The primary focus of the leader is now on the self because it is the nature and presence of the leader that most impacts an organization.2 Technical skills serve as the price of admission to leadership, but leading effectively depends on how well you negotiate the emotional and relational processes of what many refer to as both science and art.

Frances Hesselbein, co-editor of The Leader of the Future, says, “The three major challenges CEOs will face [in the 21st century] will have little to do with managing the enterprise’s tangible assets and everything to do with monitoring the quality of: leadership, the work force, and relationships.”3 Hesselbein goes on to say, “The leader beyond the millennium will not be the leader who has learned the lessons of how to do it....The leader for today and the future will be focused on how to be—how to develop quality, character, mind-set, values, principles, and courage.”4

We are not interested in inspiring you to change the face of management. That is going to happen with or without our help. We are more concerned with helping you develop a perspective that allows for personal change, adaptation, continual learning, and the ability to lead organizations worthy of human habitation. We want to assist you in your efforts to deploy your best self.

Learning as a Way of Being

One of the advantages younger workers feel they have in the workplace is being teachable. If you master nothing else, master learning. Liz Wiseman says that getting on the learning curve is more important than having experience in today’s world of information overload and faster-paced work.5 Aim to be on the learning curve not just through your professional formative years but your whole life; don’t let your life stream go dry. Peter Vaill defines learning as the changes a person makes in himself or herself with respect to the know-how, know-what, and know-why.6 We humbly add know-how-to-be to the list.

Organizations are not becoming less complicated. Every day they bring new learning challenges. Vaill explains, “Today’s complex, interdependent, and unstable systems require continual imaginative and creative initiatives and responses by those living and working in them.”7 He is known for comparing management to maneuvering whitewater rapids. Here is what he has to say to anyone who wants to get into the management raft:

1. Permanent whitewater conditions are full of surprises.

2. Complex systems tend to produce novel problems.

3. Permanent whitewater conditions feature events that are “messy” and “ill structured.”

4. Whitewater events are often costly.

5. Permanent whitewater conditions raise the problem of recurrence.8

Managerial Leadership

You will notice that the full title of this book has both the terms manage and leader in it. There are clear differences between the roles of management and leadership. Perhaps Bennis and Nanus offer the simplest distinction between the two: “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.”9 Some argue that you manage things and you lead people. Others would go so far as to say that management and leadership are such different functions that one person cannot do them both. The reality of organizational life is that at times, leaders manage and managers lead. Vaill touched on this by suggesting that the idea of a single person being called “the leader” or “the manager” is a myth.10

Although there are clear differences between leadership and management, our view is that you will find yourself in both roles. There is a lot of overlap between management and leadership. Vaill handles the convergence of roles with the title managerial leader. In a world that requires more with less, it is difficult to think that an organization can afford to separate the two roles. Therefore, we will not be making a distinction or emphasizing the differences between them. In the end, both roles involve getting people to attain certain objectives and goals. Not all managers desire to be great leaders. But isn’t that a sad thought? Be different!

Task- and Relationship-Oriented Leadership

One area of overlap between management and leadership is giving attention to both tasks and relationships. Managerial leaders are often faced with the tension between getting things done and caring for the people with whom they work. The two orientations are not mutually exclusive but are often treated as such. Leaders who show little or no concern for their employees are often autocratic and risk demotivating or demoralizing their teams. Leaders overly concerned with everybody getting along may find it difficult to get things done or to hold people accountable for results. Great leaders emphasize both relationships and results. As a Millennial manager, you can expect to face the added complexity of generational dynamics when it comes to relating to and challenging your employees.

Stereotypes and Generalizations

This book contains a lot of generalizations. We realize that not all Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers hold the same views or behave exactly as the stereotypes suggest. We also realize that not everyone born in 1979 is an Xer, nor is everyone born in 1980 all Millennial. Nevertheless, we will use the labels throughout the book. First, there are measurable differences anyone in a managerial role will benefit from understanding. Second, people treat one another according to those stereotypes rather than as individuals. For both reasons, it is therefore necessary to discuss them.

If you read just a few books or articles about Millennials or Xers, you will find a variety of dates used to demarcate the generations. Demographers tend to use the ranges 1946–1964, 1965–1977, and 1978–1999 as the birth years for the Baby Boom, X, and Millennial generations. These ranges correspond to peak, trough, and peak in the histogram of the number of babies born each year in the United States.

We prefer the date ranges 1943–1960, 1961–1979, and 1980–2000 as the birth years for Boom, X, and Millennial. We view generational “personality” as the product of macro social events. The events most impactful in shaping those personalities don’t coincide exactly with the demographically determined dates. (We cover this in more detail in Chapter 6, “Generational Differences: Fact or Fiction?”) Not all individuals are impacted by events in the same way or to the same degree. However, generational (or age cohort) experiences influence one’s view of the world.

Overcoming Stereotype Threat

Historically, the focus of ageism was reserved for those in the twilight of their work life. But let’s pause and look at the effect ageism may be having on the other side of the age spectrum.11 Today’s scholars are expanding the definition of ageism to “widely held beliefs regarding the characteristics of people in various age categories.”12 With that in mind, there may be a kind of reverse ageism in which younger workers are impacted by negative stereotypes.

Millennials are an easy group to identify in terms of their appearance and are therefore highly subject to being stereotyped. When a negative stereotype about a group is relevant to performance on a specific task, it is referred to as “stereotype threat.”13 An example would be “She is too young to handle the Walmart account.” Individuals who are highly identified with a particular group may experience increased susceptibility to stereotype threat.14

Informal expectations can lead to stereotype threat against an individual and a group of individuals. A generation’s attitudes, beliefs, and values play a role in the overall social construct. When we look at the formal age structure (i.e., where those who are older are in charge), power resides with older cohorts who share ideals about work attitudes, values, and behaviors. It can be argued that the larger the cohort (or group), the greater the influence over norms and expectations.

We don’t want to let the cat out of the bag too early, but when we asked older workers in our survey, “What is the downside of being managed by a Millennial?,” the second-most-frequent response was “dealing with their immaturity.” In this case, the definition of maturity may be a generational construct. For instance, a 60-year-old manager could ride a bike through the office and have people see him as playful and fun—and even cheer him on. A Millennial could do the same thing but be considered immature and inappropriate. It can be incredibly frustrating, but you have to understand what is going on and learn to be proactive and not reactive.

Immaturity can mean a multitude of things. For the sake of our conversation, we would like to define it as a lack of self-regulation. Therefore, immaturity is the inability to act in your own long-term best interest or consistent with your deepest values. Self-awareness is critical to self-regulation in that it is the process of identifying, among other things, our values.

Overcoming negative perceptions has more to do with you learning about you than with others changing their opinions of you.

In the next chapter, we will discuss the difficulties of transitioning into management and share more results from our survey.


1. Avolio, B. J. (2005). Leadership development in balance: Made/born. Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum, p. 13.

2. Friedman, E. H. (1985). Generation to generation: Family process in church and synagogue. New York: Guilford Press.

3. Hesselbein, F., Goldsmith, M., & Beckhard, R. (1996). The leader of the future: New visions, strategies, and practices for the next era. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, p. 122–123.

4. Hesselbein, F., Goldsmith, M., & Beckhard, R. (1996). The leader of the future: New visions, strategies, and practices for the next era. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, p. 123.

5. Wiseman, L. (2014). Rookie smarts: Why learning beats knowing in the new game of work. New York: HarperCollins.

6. Vaill, P. B. (1996). Learning as a way of being: Strategies for survival in a world of permanent white water. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

7. Vaill, P. B. (1996). Learning as a way of being: Strategies for survival in a world of permanent white water. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 5.

8. Vaill, P. B. (1996). Learning as a way of being: Strategies for survival in a world of permanent white water. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

9. Bennis, W. G., & Nanus, B. (1985). Leaders: The strategies for taking charge. New York. Harper & Row, p. 21.

10. Vaill, P. B. (1989). Managing as a performing art: New ideas for a world of chaotic change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

11. Kalin, R., & Hodgins, D. C. (1984). Sex bias in judgments of occupational suitability. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, 16, 311–325.

12. Kalin R., & Hodgins, D.C. (1984). Sex bias in judgments of occupational suitability. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, 16, 311–325. p. 5.

13. O’Brien, L. T., & Hummert, M. L. (2006). Memory performance of late middle-aged adults: Contrasting self-stereotyping and stereotype threat accounts of assimilation to age stereotypes. Social Cognition, 24(3), 338.

14. Schmader, T. (2002). Gender identification moderates stereotype threat effects on women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38(2), 194–201.

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