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Unleashing the Potential of our Future Leaders

Regardless of which generation you hail from we all have intrinsic and extrinsic values that fuel our motivation. Some common examples may include rewarding work and work environment, a good boss, great teammates, advanced technology, good pay, comprehensive benefits, etc. However, the major difference between the generations is the degree of importance placed on which value. There are common timelines that categorize the year range for each of the generations so far:

  • Traditionalists - born in 1945 and before

  • Baby Boomers - born 1946 to 1964

  • Generation X - born 1965 to 1980

  • Millennials (a.k.a. Generation Y) - born 1981 to 1996

  • Generation Z - born in 1997

The focus of this blog is on the Millennial generation and the intrinsic values that drive their engagement and success. Since 2016, Millennials have been the largest group to enter the workforce and inarguably have created the greatest disruption of how we define work since the entrance of the Baby Boomers. Millennials have also gotten their fair share of criticism resulting in a wide range of stereotypes. Check out Mission.Org's article on the Top 14 Most Destructive Millennial Myths. The article addresses many of the stereotypes such as Millennials are lazy, they don't want to work hard, they are entitled...and the list goes on. This article also presents data to show that these stereotypes are in fact not always accurate. In light of the data, it is important to take a step back and discuss how companies can leverage the potential of this generation and how to better prepare them for leadership roles as Millennials will soon, and in many businesses already have, become the generation that will replace the leadership ranks of today.


Intrinsic motivation refers to having motivation to do something for its own sake and because it's rewarding to the individual, whereas extrinsic motivation comes from motivation that is derived to earn a reward or avoid punishment, regardless of whether its fun or satisfying to the individual. Having a job to earn money is an example of an extrinsic motivator. Focusing on the what, as well as the why and how work will benefit the individual, team, company, and community at large is an intrinsic motivator, and critical to the Millennial generation.

One key action companies and leaders can implement when tapping into the potential of the Millennial generation is to identify the core intrinsic motivators for each individual. Everyone wants meaningful work and clear goals, however, there is a heightened sense of meaning and purpose that this generation expects to understand along with the necessary autonomy to get work done in non-traditional ways such as flexible work arrangements, work life balance, leveraging advanced technology, and creativity in solving problems; all intrinsic motivators. Companies and leaders who create authentic cultures where values turn into consistent actions are more likely to increase engagement, motivation, and accountability within this generation. Companies must realize the importance that Millennials place on well established values and leaders must realize that the intrinsic motivation of autonomy and accountability go hand in hand, and meaningful goals create the fire for greater performance (Managing People, 2018).

Millennials (as many of us) are motivated by receiving balanced and consistent feedback and coaching. They are typically direct, yet diplomatic in expressing their thoughts and emotions. Therefore, having them in the workforce can promote open and honest communication. They typically view leaders as mentors, not managers, and as someone who is approachable and genuinely cares about them as a person, not just someone to get the job done. Authority power is not appealing as they want someone they can trust and who will give balanced, continuous, supportive, and candid feedback, while encouraging a two-way dialogue. Therefore, another action companies can benefit from is the implementation of leadership and or mentorship programs that develop and support feedback and coaching and reinforce these skills in all leaders.

Upon observation and while they recognize structure, Millennials may not draw a vast distinction between the levels of organizational hierarchy as clearly as the previous generations do. As mentioned, they are looking for authentic mentors and coaches to help them navigate the business landscape and will reach out to executives who successfully demonstrate this capability. Companies need to be proactive and acutely aware of this need so they implement such practices and values that create an authentic and supportive culture. Leaders must demonstrate values that result in consistent actions. For example, a leader cannot tout an "Open Door Policy" and then behave in a harsh manner if an unexpecting Millennial happens to catch the leader on a bad or hectic day with what they think is a great idea that needs to be shared via the open door appearance. Open Door is a misunderstood policy. What they don't teach us in business school is that this actually means "I am always open to hearing what's on your mind when my door is open, except when I'm not in the mood". The preceding generations may have learned this early in our careers, however, this generation has not had the same experience, and has a high level of trust that when a company or leader values Open Door, it literally means Open Door.

For the Millennial generation, it's more about a sense of belonging to a community that's collaborative by nature and one in which everyone contributes regardless of level within the organization. The previous example isn't to suggest that CEO's and other leaders must drop everything to accommodate a Millennial, or anyone else for that matter, it simply illustrates the openness, confidence, and capability of this generation. In the example above, this generation could benefit from a quick explanation of why now isn't the best time to discuss and when a better time would be, as well as coaching from other HR or business leaders on how to read the situation when a leader is preoccupied and doesn't really want to be disturbed. What typically happens in these situations is the leader, begrudgingly, and not wanting to be dismissive, ends up placating the individual, doesn't really listen, and then later vents to others that the individual has inappropriate timing, is self-absorbed and has a lack of awareness, which of course is where stereotypes (particularly for Millennials) become real. In some organizations this can be political suicide, particularly when leaders aren't adequately mentoring less experienced employees in the areas of business etiquette, political missteps, and the cultural nuances we are all exposed to.

Therefore, a third action that companies and leaders should take is to provide upfront informal coaching to employees, especially Millennials, regarding cultural unspoken nuances. These ways of informal working discussions (such as Open Door policy) can be added in new hire onboarding orientations or as one on one coachings as needed. It's worth while for companies to take time upfront to educate individuals in these areas to prevent such missteps that can quickly erode engagement at all levels. Implement this level of interaction, and you will be impressed with the results.


A 2016 Gallup study on How Millennials Want to Work and Live illustrates that this generation is the least engaged (meaning they are not emotionally and behaviorally connected to their job) of all the generations at only 29% versus that of the Traditionalists at 45%, and the Boomers and Gen Xers at 33% and 32%, respectively. If we had just not learned earlier from the Mission.Org article that there are many stereotypes associated with this generation that aren't factual, we might just write them off as being "checked-out" by nature and consider them as ungrateful "job-hoppers" who are just not passionate about hanging in when the going gets tough. This could not be more further from the truth. Workplace research reveals that overall Millennials want:

  • To feel a connection to their work,

  • The opportunity to contribute significantly,

  • A blurring of the lines between work and life, with their co-workers becoming their work family,

  • To make a difference and be recognized for their contributions, and

  • Bottomline: Their ultimate goal is to find a good job that fuels their sense of purpose and enables them to lead a life well-lived.

These needs engage them, and this is what gets them to stay. If Millennials aren't finding the engagement they are looking for they have a vast array of options available to them and they possess the technological prowess and intrinsic motivation to find the level of engagement they desire elsewhere. This is a real challenge for companies using traditional talent management strategies. To win the proverbial "War for Millennial Talent", companies must focus on intrinsic motivators centered around engagement practices that provide meaningful work, comprehensive onboarding experiences, and mentorship and leadership development programs focused on career advancement opportunities that allow for broader organizational impact.

In summary, who Millennials are as people matters to them. It matters in how they want to be treated in the workplace, how they go about choosing roles and companies that engage them, and how they are coached on their performance. Therefore, it is essential that companies focus on intrinsic motivators to build their leadership bench strength. When companies and leaders fail to understand, value, and engage the Millennial mindset through the actions discussed in this blog, they fail to create work environments that attract and retain this group (Gallup 2016). Are you ready and prepared to engage and unleash the potential of this generation of future leaders?

Please write me, or give me a call to discuss any questions or for advice on implementing any of the aforementioned actions. Tim is an Executive Coach who focuses on Leadership and Team Development for all generations. For more information regarding my services please check out my website at

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