Simon Sinek didn’t get it all right!
Over the holidays, a video of Leadership Expert and Author Simon Sinek speaking about Millennials in the workplace went viral. One version included the title “This is Exacty What is Wrong with This Generation”. Because of my work with Millennial leaders and entrepreneurs, my inbox and newsfeeds were flooded with it. My mom even called me.
Not only did lots of people share it with me, but quite a few of you asked me what my thoughts were so I was forced out of my holiday bubble to watch it and put my response in writing.
If you don’t know who Simon Sinek is and why people care so much about what he thinks, let me tell you that he is a true Thought Leader. He is most well known for his first TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” based upon the work in his first book, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action published in 2009. In September 2016, he gave an interview on Inside Quest with Tom Bilyeu, but it is his fifteen minute response about Millennials in the workplace that has taken the Internet by storm while most of us have been lazing about and overeating.
So in-between meals, I watched the video and scanned the comments. Overall, Sinek’s thoughts felt validating for a lot of Millennials, yet left a few of you with questions or concerns. And I agree, while he made some significant points, I don’t think he got it all right.
Let’s start with a couple of minor points that I think he got wrong or left me sighing. Sinek identified Millennials as those born in 1984 and after, BUT, the majority of Generational researchers classify Millennials as those born between 1981 and 2001. Sinek also used the term “kids” several times which I think is not only inaccurate, but a bit disparaging. Most of you are in your twenties and early thirties, and are already quite accomplished, leaving your stamp in business and on the world. Millennials like you are CEOs, entrepreneurs, soldiers, politicians, judges, doctors, law enforcement officers, airline pilots, Olympic athletes, mothers, fathers, and so much more than “kids” who want to have “free food and bean bags” in the workplace.
So now that we have greater clarity on exactly who we are talking about, let’s get into it. Specifically, Sinek was asked to address the much discussed issue of Millennials being tough to manage, and the accusation that you are entitled, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused, and lazy.
He is right. These are nothing more than accusations and stereotypes that have been perpetuated for years now by mainstream media. Time Magazine labeled Millennials the Me, Me, Me generation, because they had already labeled others the Me and Me-Me generation. Time Magazine has done cover stories on Gen Xers and Boomers, labeling both the most narcissistic generation of their time.
Perhaps it is true, but we have to start having conversations differently because these stereotypes are a gross oversimplification of an entire generation that heavily bears the scent of bias and ageism.
There are 1.7 billion Millennials worldwide and any generalizations made about your generation are broad brushstrokes that only tell us about a small segment of the population. While Millennials are officially the most researched generation of our time, most of the research on your generation, especially Millennials in the workplace, only includes those who have grown up with access to technology and higher education, and who work in private sector organizations or corporate environments.
So when we have conversations about Millennials in the workplace it is critical that we understand that we are only talking about a small segment of a very large population of people.
Sinek suggests that the best way to understand the topic of Millennials in the workplace is through these four areas: Parenting, Technology, Impatience, and Environment.
He Got Parenting Right and Wrong!
Sinek cites the research on the “failed parenting” of this generation. Specifically, he mentions the fact that many of you received participation trophies that left you feeling embarrassed, you were told you can do or have anything you want, and your parents over advocated for you so you received rewards you didn’t deserve. Then he goes on to say that these practices resulted in a generation with lower self-esteem which becomes more evident when you enter the “real world” or the workplace. While this may be an accurate description for many, it isn’t for all. Not only was everyone not parented the same, but the results of this style of parenting aren’t all negative.
On the flipside, this style of parenting has resulted in a generation with stronger familial relationships. Not only are you closer with your own families, but you spend more time with your own children and partners, and strive for a much healthier work-life balance than former generations.
But many of you fear he got it wrong when he said, “Milllennials were dealt a bad hand by their parents who didn’t prepare them, and it is through no fault of their own”. Many of you fear that Millennials now have permission to blame others for their shortcomings and not take responsibility.
But I think he is right. Knowing the truth is empowering. The fact is that when we know more about who we are and how we got here, we are better equipped to make the changes we want and need.
He Got Technology Wrong!
Sinek spends quite a bit of time discussing the addictive quality of technology and how it is being used by “kids” to self-sooth or seek approval from their peers. He went on to say that like other addictive stimulants, such as alcohol, when accessed during adolescence you become hard wired to use technology as a coping mechanism instead of relying on people and relationships. He said, “too many kids don’t know how to form deep meaningful relationships”.
Again, the majority of Millennials aren’t kids, and the dopamine reaction he discussed impacts folks of all ages. While Millennials and the up and coming Generation Z have greater access to technology and its influences are potentially dangerous and unhealthy, I think Sinek’s correlation here was a bit overblown and everyone could benefit from disconnecting from their devices. I am connected to a large global network of Millennials and it is hard for me to agree that your generation doesn’t know how to form deep meaningful relationships or rely on others to help you.
The technological challenges different generations face in the workplace aren’t Millennials addiction to technology and your inability to rely on people, it is much deeper than that.
Perceptions of technology and how it should be used in the workplace is values-driven and each generation places a different set of values on the use of technology in the workplace.
Boomers and Gen Xers started their careers without technology so we value pre-technological processes and the work and thought that go into them. We remember what it was like to file papers, use the Dewey Decimal system, and walk uphill in the snow both ways to get to school.
Those of you who are entering the workforce after technology put a greater value on the use of technological processes because it is what you know and have been taught to use. It must be confusing for your generation who has been taught the advantages of technology from a very early age to enter the workplace and be told you rely too much on technology. It must be confusing to be asked to value processes that you have never used (like filing systems and note taking on paper) and to embrace processes that are less efficient. This is why and how technology has created a divide in the workplace. And rather than having conversations about value differences and processes, your generation is written off as addicted to technology or impatient which takes us to the next area where Sinek really got it wrong.
He Got Impatience Wrong!
Sinek dramatically and passionately professed Millennials need for instant gratification; you want it all NOW! Whether you are binge watching your favorite TV program, or shopping on Amazon, you want it all now. Truthfully, we all want it now, because we can. Business Insider published the age breakdown of Amazon customers in the US and found that “Amazon Prime seems to appeal much more to people aged 40 and up — and it’s particularly attractive to seniors 60 and up”. So the need for instant gratification isn’t just a Millennial thing, it’s a I live on the planet in the 21st Century thing.
But Sinek was right when he said that job satisfaction and strength of relationships won’t come quickly or easily. He indicated that things that are worth having take time, and the journey is arduous and long… BUT THEN HE SAID if you don’t learn patience then the best case scenario is that your generation will go through life never experiencing real happiness or joy.
But let’s get real. Most people aren’t patient in their twenties and when we have conversations about generations and generational differences, we must be able to differentiate what is unique to your generation and what is unique to being twenty-something. We can all relate to high levels of idealism, self-centeredness, and blind ambition in our twenties. But generational differences are more complex then how we feel in our twenties. Because each generation shares a common Cohort, Lifecycle, and Time Period, they develop common characteristics or a set of shared values, beliefs and behaviors that extend beyond your twenties.
As a cohort, each generation grows up sharing similar experiences like the same social trends, pop icons, economic shifts, and so on. Which is why my generation loves the Jackson 5 and yours loves the Back Street Boys. The Lifecycle effect comes from being the same age at the same time, and growing up and growing old together. There is something about being twenty-something that makes us feel entitled, narcissistic, and impatient, but this will shift as we mature with time. To suggest that those feelings are unique to your generation is quite revisionist. We should expect that all of us mature over time. Great leaders must be able to be patient with younger and less experienced employees, instead of being judgmental.
Lastly, the political, economic, or cultural events that happen as we grow up and come of age shape a generation. Each generation has been shaped by a war in their time period. Traditionalists were shaped by WWII, Boomers by Vietnam, Xers by the Gulf War, and Millennials have been shaped by 9/11 and over ten years of US occupation in the Middle East.
He Nailed it on Environment!
Sinek nailed it when he spoke about the corporate environment. He made it quite clear that corporations are failing their Millennial talent, and he couldn’t have been more right. He said “We are putting them [Millennials] into unhealthy corporate environments that care more about the numbers than they do the kids”. Corporations care more about the short-term gains than the long-term life of the Millennial talent they recruit and hire. This is overwhelmingly supported by the vast amount of research conducted by agencies like Deloitte, Pew Research, Pricewaterhouse Cooper, and Virtuali who have found that:
- Millennials’ lack of loyalty to organizations is due to the lack of investment in their leadership and professional development.
- Millennials recognize the importance of leadership development, but feel unprepared to lead and that businesses aren’t doing enough to prepare them.
- Great companies and leaders give young talent opportunities to grow and learn, yet companies aren’t providing sufficient training, in quality and quantity.
- Millennials believe leaders are responsible for ensuring the long-term future of an organization, and value employee growth and well being, while other generations value short-term financial goals, personal income, and reward.
- Higher education is not preparing Millennials for the workplace and they are relying on their employers to build their confidence and develop their business skills and knowledge.
- Supporting leadership development in Millennials builds loyalty and increases engagement and retention.
Sinek flat out said that businesses of any size are responsible for the development of their talent, and I couldn’t agree more. When businesses don’t invest or develop their talent “Millennials think it’s them and blame themselves but the fault really is the corporate environment and a total lack of great leadership in our world today.”
Great leaders create work environments where all of their talent is able to build confidence and develop their skill sets. More seasoned leaders and professionals are uniquely positioned to support and mentor Millennial talent, and model the behavior they want to see in you. That’s what great leaders do.
Mentoring and training will not only allow you to develop the interpersonal and professional skills you need to advance, but also the skills of cooperation, and the ability to balance with technology and manual systems and the value of patience or longevity.
The good news for Traditionalists, Boomers and Gen Xers is that:
- Leaders who can create a safe space for Millennials to learn from and interact with leaders of different ages, experiences, and titles can increase their ability to engage and retain their Millennial talent.
- Millennials value engagement with senior leadership over a raise or promotion.
- Millennials relish the opportunity to work with strong coaches and mentors, and senior management.
- Developing generational competence will equip you to more effectively lead everyone within your organization.
- Investing in your Millennial talent from the start will save you money and time in the end. It costs $24,000 to replace each Gen-Y hire that leaves, while mentoring and training is much less.
The Good News for Millennials:
- Your minority status will soon end. Today your generation represents 5% of the world population, and by 2020 you will be 50% of the Global Workforce and 75% of the global workforce by 2025. World domination is just around the corner.
- You have allies like Sinek and myself who are working hard to ensure that leaders of all ages are better equipped to lead people and organizations.
- You can control and invest in your own advancement by finding your own mentors and coaches that will help your leadership development.
- There are lots of opportunities available for you to develop your professional and leadership skills (but don’t bypass the chain of command to do it, that’s important to old folks). Not every opportunity to learn and grow will be given to you, sometimes you’ll have to create them for yourself.
- Everything you are doing now will help you do more later.
Organizations today are facing generational challenges, which we know is true. But it is not because your generation is so different and problematic, but because for the first time there are four, and in some cases five, generations in the workplace.
Former generations have delayed retirement and want to work longer. The result is unprecedented levels of age diversity in the workplace so it is imperative that leaders of all ages know how to create and sustain age-friendly work environments so that the virtues of all generations can be leveraged to a company’s advantage.
All leaders must be held accountable and asked to be great conscientious leaders who guide, mentor, and train their talent. It is no longer satisfactory for leaders to sit in the corner office and expect their team to come up within the organization like they did or do things the way it has always been done.
Organizations can no longer afford to ignore your generation or write you off as entitled and narcissistic. It is time to let go of those negative stereotypes and perceptions and invest in pathways to your success because when you succeed, we all succeed.
We can all get it right from the start if we invest in development and organizations before things go wrong.
Organizations should have established processes for on boarding new talent that includes training and mentoring. It is also worth investing in ongoing training and development, as well as processes that support effective collaboration, communication, and conflict resolution. Too often clients come to me after everything has gone wrong, and not that it is impossible, but it takes more time, energy, and money to fix something then it does to set it up right from the beginning.
So if you are leading within an organization or running your own business make sure you get it right from the start.