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What to expect from Millennials as managers

By 2025, 75 percent of the workforce will be Millennials. And they won’t be filling entry-level positions. They’ll be managers.

Some younger Baby Boomers and Gen-X managers tend to be seen as aloof, with a focus on the bottom line and an ability to confront problems head-on. That management style won’t work for Millennials, as they have a need for social responsibility, constant communication, and teamwork. Millennials will have their own unique management style and it just might change the face of your company.

Also, if you’re worried about Millennials as managers, get ready—because they’ll be managing the Plurals or iGen, the earliest of which are just starting to enter the workforce as 16- to 20-year-olds.

Here are some strengths Millennials bring to the workplace, and a few areas where they’ll be challenged to grow.

Deep generalists

It sounds like an oxymoron, but most people who graduated college after the 2008 financial crisis recognized that limiting their skill set was a liability. Millennials watched as previous generations lost their jobs and sometimes remained unemployed for a significant period of time—highly-specialized and either over- or underqualified for other positions, and without the skill set or ability to pivot.

Deep generalists are the modern and gender-neutral version of the Renaissance man. They don’t specialize in just one area and instead strive for a broad base of knowledge that they can rely on to get a through any situation. This qualifies Millennials for a wide variety of employment positions.

Deep generalists are the modern and gender-neutral version of the Renaissance man. They don't specialize in just one area and instead strive for a broad base of knowledge that they can rely on to get a through any situation.

Along with the Internet, the rise of e-commerce, and the blogosphere came the ability to learn anything, at any time, and from anywhere—and probably for free. Millennials grew up to become Swiss Army knives in the workplace, developing the ability to learn new skills quickly and meld the skills they have to fit the situation (much like the Gen-Xers that came before them).

As managers, Millennials will use their skills as deep generalists to oversee a wide variety of employees and expand the definition of what success looks like. Millennial managers may not be able to code a website, for example, but as digital natives, they know what makes a website look good and will understand basic HTML and UI components. No longer do managers need to have conquered every job beneath them in order to become a manager; it’s likely they will manage people working positions they may have never held. But Millennial managers may be well-equipped to recognize and harness hidden talents, passions, and skills in their direct reports and colleagues. Deep generalists are adaptive, curious, and knowledgeable across a wide variety of subjects, which can lead to creative solutions.

The challenge?

If Millennial managers aren’t deeply knowledgeable in the areas they oversee, it will be more difficult to roll up their sleeves and say, “Let’s figure this out together.” Instead, there’ll be more reliance on sourcing the right subject matter expert to help solve detailed or technical problems that arise.

Team-centric

As the kids who won participation medals, Millennials are highly focused on teamwork and emergent leadership. Titles and hierarchical roles are less important. Millennials know that no one has all the right answers and that the team is more important than the manager.

Millennials know that no one has all the right answers and that the team is more important than the manager.

Millennial managers will focus on building a strong, cohesive team with differing abilities, perspectives, and skills. Millennials not only celebrate the idea of teamwork, but also diversity within their teams. To be the best and the most successful, Millennial managers want to harness as many good ideas as possible.

The challenge?

In the age of ghosting, orbiting, and the ubiquitous “hey,” Millennials aren’t the best at facing confrontation, especially when it’s in person.

But part of managing a team is being able to face confrontation head on and arrive at a resolution. Millennials lean more toward avoidance than confrontation when compared to previous generations. A fear of confrontation might make Millennials weak managers, or it might make for a more passive aggressive workplace.

No one enjoys confrontation, but being able to constructively confront and criticize team members, or speak with "radical candor", is a crucial aspect of management that won’t come naturally to Millennials. Fortunately, their ability to learn new skills can come in handy when learning to navigate uncomfortable situations.

Communication maestros

How many apps on your phone include a messaging function? Depending on your preferences, there’s SMS texting, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Snap, WhatsApp, Telegram, Reddit, Slack, email, and probably hundreds of others. This constant stream of communication can be deafening if you’re not trained to manage it. But Millennials are. We’re constantly in communication and are great instantaneous responders.

Another managerial skill Millennials gained from the constant feedback loop they live in is the ability to provide feedback—as long as direct confrontation isn’t a factor. Millennials naturally seek and give feedback online to their IRL and digital friends. Instead of the yearly review, Millennial managers will be feeding consistent information to their team on how to improve and continue their hard work and will want to see progressive, constant improvement from employees.

The challenge?

To echo my earlier point, Millennials aren’t perfect communicators. They lack one very important quality: meeting in person. As the world goes digital, Millennial managers’ natural reliance on technology will be a major asset, but, it’s also a double-edged sword. It will be important for Millennial managers to recognize that it’s easier to build trust and rapport in person. Getting to know another person, and reading body language and facial expression are key to building strong relationships.

Guided by social responsibility

Millennials aren’t so much loyal to brands as they are loyal to causes. For example, 91 percent of Millennials will switch brands to one associated with a cause. It’s no longer enough for big companies to make good products and turn a profit for shareholders. Millennials are pushing back and using the power of their spending to tell these big companies to use that profit and power for good.

You might think this focus on social responsibility only affects Millennials buying habits, but it also affects where they work. As many as 62 percent of Millennials would take a pay cut to work for a company that they trust. This focus on social responsibility gets even stronger in the younger cohorts of the Millennial generation.

As many as 62 percent of Millennials would take a pay cut to work for a company that they trust.

The challenge?

It’s difficult to find one here. With an inner compass that points toward social betterment, Millennials want to work for brands that focus on making the world a better place. Maybe this makes them naive, but businesses should beware: this quality will send the best talent to the companies with the most purpose.

Friends of data

As digital natives, Millennials are comfortable dealing with large amounts of data. Spreadsheets are an everyday headache and sifting through data to uncover insight is part of the job. Millennial managers may have a tendency to show their emotions, but they base their decisions on data.

With the ability to measure anything, Millennial managers will quickly realize that the way to competently judge a team is through a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). As employees continue to work remotely or focus on designing their own work-life balance, Millennial managers will need to rely on data to support decisions, rather than guiding on gut.

The challenge?

Focusing on results can put Millennials too into the weeds and without the ability to see the bigger picture. Taking a step back is a skill that can be learned through practice, but it’s not one that Millennials are encouraged to look for.

Curiosity-driven

We’re all learning that we have to adapt at the pace that technology advances. Future managers will need to constantly learn and accept help when there’s something they don’t know or understand. Millennial managers are primed to do this.

Millennials have been encouraged from a young age to be curious about the world and to question the status quo. This shows up in adult Millennials as a spirit of unquenchable curiosity. They want to learn about new technologies, try the newest software, and will bounce when something doesn’t pan out or when something better arrives.

The challenge?

Yeah, maybe we’re flaky, but Millennials are hardwired to adapt when the world around us changes. Insatiable curiosity may translate into a few false starts or lessons learned the hard way, but isn’t that sometimes the best way to learn?

We’re on our way

Whether or not you like it, Millennials are advancing into managerial roles at businesses all around the world. And as happens with any generational shift, there are rational fears that Millennials will kill the workplace as we know it and change things for the worse.

But for those of us who are Millennials, the skills we’ve developed in economically uncertain times, and in a socially dynamic world, are strengths that will help us lead the workplace and (because we think highly of ourselves) the world, to a better place.

Page Grossman became an entrepreneur at 22, knowing that she never wanted to settle down in a cubicle. With a degree in journalism, some money in a savings account, and Millennial-spirit, Page founded her own freelance writing business. Page writes about creating an intentional lifestyle through travel, finances, entrepreneurship, health, fitness, and nutrition. Depending on the day, you can find her writing for various blogs, slaying SEO, researching grammar questions, banishing the Lorem Ipsum, fostering kittens, and traveling the world on Instagram.