20 Keys to Leading 20-Somethings

“Younger leaders have a broad and global perspective and are not impressed with smaller dreams.”

At our Catalyst events, we gather thousands from the millennial generation—those born after 1980—and most of our staff are under the age of 30, so I’m often asked how best to influence this generation of emerging leaders. Now, as a Gen Xer who has been led by boomers and busters, I don’t always get this right, but I’m working on it. From my own reading and observation, here are 20 keys for leading the 20-somethings on your team.

1. Give them freedom with their schedule. I’ll admit it; this one is tough for me.

2. Give them projects, not a career. Career is just not the same anymore. They desire options—like free agents.

3. Create a family environment. Work, family and social lives are all intertwined, so make sure the work environment is experiential and family oriented.

4. Make compassion and justice part of the norm. A sense of “cause” and opportunities to give back are important to them.

5. Embrace social media. It’s here to stay.

6. If you want a response, text first, or DM, then call. Or send a Facebook message. Having been raised on technology, millennials are more tech savvy than previous generations.

7. Lead each person uniquely. As much as possible, customize your approach rather than crafting general rules for everyone. (This one is difficult too!)

8. Make authenticity and honesty the standard for your corporate culture. Millennials tend to be cynical and don’t trust someone just because they are in charge.

9. Give them opportunities to make a difference and leave their mark. This is more important to them than “climbing the corporate ladder.”

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10. Empower them early and often. They don’t want to wait their turn and will find an outlet for influence and responsibility somewhere else if you don’t give it to them.

11. Recognize that it’s all about the larger win, not the smaller, personal gain. Young leaders, in general, have an abundance mentality instead of scarcity mentality.

12. Build your enterprise around partnering and collaboration. Collaboration is the new currency, along with generosity.

13. Keep the cause front and center. With millennials, it’s not about working for a personality; laboring long hours to build a temporal kingdom for one person is of no interest to them. But they will work hard for a vision bigger than themselves.

14. Build mentoring and discipleship into your organizational environment. Contrary to what some older leaders may think, millennials deeply desire the transfer of generational wisdom.

15. Coach them and encourage them. They want to gain wisdom through experience. Come alongside them—don’t just tell them what to do.

16. Create opportunities for quality time, individually and corporately. They want to be led by example and not just by words.

17. Hold them accountable. They desire feedback from those who are living it out.

18. Lead with a large vision. Younger leaders have a broad and global perspective and are not impressed with smaller dreams.

19. Recognize their values, not just their strengths. Don’t use them without truly knowing them.

20. Provide a system that creates stability. Rise above expectations with the freedom to succeed and provide stability on the emotional, financial and organizational side.

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Brad Lomenick is a speaker, writer, leadership advisor and founder of Blinc Consulting. For more than 10 years, he served as president and key visionary of Catalyst, one of America’s largest gatherings of young leaders.