Many business leaders are beginning to worry about how few Millennials have the leadership and sales acumen to fuel their growth and transition into senior leadership roles.
Danita Bye passionately believes that Millennials could be the new “greatest generation.” She is a leadership expert on the Forbes Coaches Council and is the founder of Sales Growth Specialists. I recently spoke with her about her love of Millennials and how to equip the next generation.
Millennials Matter: Proven Strategies for Building Your Next-Gen Leader is the title of your new book. Share some statistics with us about why that is.
The star performers responsible for the growth of our businesses will, in a few short years, primarily be Millennials. Mentoring young leaders needs to be a top priority of every company’s business growth strategy. We need to actively recruit and train them to replace the nearly 10,000 baby boomers retiring each day. Starting in the early 2020s, Millennials are going to drive our economy. Since that is the case, Millennial leaders will be key assets to accelerating business growth, tapping new markets and launching innovative products and services.
In our recent Millennials Matter Survey of over 270 business leaders, 60 percent voiced their concerns with Millennial leaders in three areas: character, confidence, and collaboration. Even experienced leaders are seeking proven strategies to deal with these and other mentoring and coaching challenges. Doing so will help them maximize their business opportunities while realizing their leadership legacy.
Why Millennials Get a Bad Rap
In my opinion, Millennials often get labeled unfairly. Why is that?
Millennials do indeed get a bad rap in the media where the focus is often on the group of Millennials who are entitled, narcissistic, and still living in their parent’s basement. However, that’s not my experience. I work with many emerging leaders who are highly talented people of rock-solid character and firmly grounded confidence. They exhibit the ability to connect and collaborate in a wide range of challenging communication scenarios with a broad range of people.
We also have to admit that Millennial leaders are different from previous generations. Based on current media, technology and culture, they view leadership from a unique angle. For example, 91% of Millennials see themselves as leaders. This is shocking to many who worked hard to climb the ladder and become “leaders.” Plus, they crave leaders who interact in a non-conventional way – they don’t want a boss. They want a mentor or a coach to help them grow in their leadership capacity and influence. Some leaders perceive this “different” as a negative, expressing concern. However, when we are able to look, stop complaining and start coaching, we can harness the incredible potential that Millennials bring to our businesses. It’s these fresh insights and perspectives that hold the seeds to dealing more effectively with the competitive pressures of today’s crazy sales and business environment.
Work on Character
You begin by talking about courageous character. In what ways can leaders actively be working on the character of their emerging leaders?
Millennial leaders who operate with both solid character and high courage have a positive influence, are constructive change agents and have stability during the rocky times in life. These leaders are good for business. They help ensure you’re growing with the right clients, maintaining solid margins, and building a positive brand.
During today’s disruptive economic times, there’s a growing movement of business schools focusing on virtuous leadership. That’s not a term that we hear everyday in the boardroom or on the sales floor, yet it’s important in building long-term, sustainable business enterprises. It’s based on the ancient wisdom found in the cardinal virtues—prudence, justice, temperance, and courage—which were derived primarily from Aristotle. These, along with the Church’s long held three core theological virtues—faith, hope, and charity—have stood the test of time as a guiding light for leaders in all enterprises.
However, for many, the word “virtuous” triggers the screen-saver stare. Thus, I have developed an acronym, D.A.K.O.T.A. based on being raised on a ranch in North Dakota, that helps us understand, internalize, and apply these ancient leadership best practices to today’s business challenges. In a trusting mentoring relationship, we can work with our emerging leaders to think though both short and long-term ramifications of thoughts, words, actions, and habits in six areas of character development:
Determination: supporting Millennials as they weather uncertainty, challenges, and chaos.
Awareness: guiding them to strengthen their emotional IQ so they become increasingly adept at leveraging their unique talents, strengths and perspectives in their leadership interactions.
Knowing: working through the moral and ethical challenges of everyday business challenges. We need leaders who have the courage to stand for what is right over what is easy.
Optimism: nurturing a confident mindset that fuels creativity and innovation when facing tough circumstances.
Trustworthiness: demonstrating how trust accelerates business relationships and results.
Accountability: modeling the emotional maturity and internal backbone to take responsibility for your own actions and choices and not shift blame to external factors.
Control Negative Thinking
I want to talk a little about negative thinking. Some leaders seem to be stuck in a negative cycle and don’t know how to, as you put it, “break the chains of negative thinking.” What’s the best way to actively take control of this area?
Positive psychology research indicates that we have the power to choose more productive thinking that benefits not only ourselves but also those around us. Therefore, it is critical that we are intentionally proactive in mentoring emerging leaders to think about their thinking and be willing to make changes when needed. The ancient sage Solomon says “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”
The first step is often the hardest: to identify unproductive beliefs that are sabotaging our effectiveness and keeping us from living from a place of strength. However, these destructive thoughts are often lurking deep in our subconscious.
In my sales development work, I use a validated survey process to help sales people and sales leaders quickly identify 10 hidden mindset weaknesses lurking in their subconscious that are undermining their sales results. For example, almost 50% make sales and leadership decisions based on their psychological need for others to like them versus respect them. Yes, it is important to salespeople and leaders to be liked. However, when it becomes an emotional need that prevents them from being a trusted resource and helping others achieve their best business results, it’s detrimental. Of course, this has an adverse impact on sales results, since clients prioritize the best business solution. This hidden weakness also has a negative impact on the success of the sales leader who will be reluctant to ask tough questions of team members or make tough calls for fear of not being liked. This weakness alone can stall performance, reducing effectiveness by almost 50%. And we have nine others we help people pinpoint so they can address them.
Once we help them identify a destructive belief, we recommend a three-step process to help them turn their thinking to be more productive and supportive of their goals.
You share a story of the worst decision you ever made, buying a snowmobile sleigh manufacturing business just prior to El Nino and several years of little to no snow. What did that experience teach you?
The first lesson I learned was that I don’t have any control over the weather! However, the most important lesson I learned was that victim-mode-blame-game thinking doesn’t solve anything. In fact, it sabotages my own brilliance and creativity. Thankfully, I was reading a series of books on the importance of accountability processes in building high-performance sales teams. The authors reminded me of a word we use often in the Finnish community I grew up in – sisu. There’s no equivalent word in English. In short, it means having grit and determination to overcome any challenge – to have a disciplined approach, an action mindset, and an ownership orientation.
Here’s the problem: approximately 60% of salespeople and sales leaders come to work every day with a victim mindset, blaming their competition, their customers, the economy, the market, or company leadership (and the list goes on and on) for their lack of performance.
We, as leaders, need to be challenging them to draw on their own grit, determination and sisu spirit to keep moving forward and overcome obstacles.
High-performance companies and sales forces that embrace this sisu spirit will have the creativity to tackle the disruptors in their industry head-on. To deal with today’s global challenges our Millennial leaders will need this same grit and determination. We can help nurture this quality in them.
Leverage Two-Way Mentoring
What’s two-way mentoring?
Two-way mentoring is an informal, collaborative willingness to learn from each other in order to grow one’s personal and professional capacity to lead wisely. This trusting relationship is one of the ways we can be “a leader who builds leaders,” sharing our wisdom and experience with our emerging leaders.
Scientific American recently published groundbreaking cognitive research evaluating the changes that happen within our own mental processes based on how we choose to discuss an idea – whether we argue to win or argue to learn. This article sparked my own thinking about mentoring. When we’re working with a Millennial leader, are we presenting our viewpoint and trying to win them over to our way of thinking? Or are we asking questions and seeking to learn from them?
Those leaders who seek to learn from Millennials will gain keen competitive insights. Plus, their own lives will be enriched. I appreciate Ken Blanchard’s perspective: “I know from experience that for seasoned leaders, there is no greater joy than mentoring a first-time manager. Why? Because mentor and mentee learn so much from each other in the process!”
If you look forward to a time when Millennials are leading most organizations, what are your hopes?
The Millennials we coach in our place of business are all unique. If we turn a sharp eye to what is distinctive in them, by observing their individual strengths, we’ll draw out the best in each of them. A truly successful team, one that can survive global turmoil and financial challenges, taps the unique abilities and skills of all the team members.
Most of the young people I know and coach are impressive, emerging leaders. Some of them experience hurt, even victimization when generalizations about their age group ignore the promising leadership potential they possess. They’re intentional in forming a solid character that can weather rapid change. They’re eager to build authentic confidence. And they know the importance of really listening and valuing others so that synergistic collaboration happens.
These young people, even ones who are struggling to find their places, give me great hope for future generations.
For more information, visit Millennials Matter: Proven Strategies for Building Your Next-Gen Leader.