By Andrew Coller, Training Consultant, British Council in Singapore

01 October 2018 - 16:58

Try starting here …

Can you remember years ago your parents or significant older people saying to you, ‘One day you’ll understand’ or, ‘You can’t put an old head on young shoulders’? I can. Both were one-liners that variously implied anything from a mild warning to exasperation on their part.

Indignation was my response.  I wasn’t being allowed to assert that I should expect to grasp and run with my own ideas, in my own time and space, on my own terms, according to my own experiences.

As far as I understood their point of view, it was as if there was a prescribed assault route through life that I had to find and navigate if I was ever going to be a success. But it wasn’t a route I recognised. I stumbled across the reason when I was struggling to define myself, as you must when you’re in your early 20s.

The route my parents and others advocated … was someone else’s. Not mine. And it belonged to a different set of circumstances in an era that also wasn’t mine.

I suspect that each person in each generation could recount a similar struggle.

Learn more on Corporate training

So what is the Millennials’ story?

Simon Sinek has recently gone viral on Youtube with an expose on his understanding of the Millenial dilemma. By all accounts they are, indeed, a product of the environment that those who have gone before them, have created. But Sinek says they are accused of being entitled, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocussed.

What do they say they want? In a nutshell, they want to have purpose and make an impact.

They can certainly find themselves in some encouraging internships and other skills building opportunities very early on in their careers. Yet, their happiness is elusive. Sinek is not the only one saying this. Countless managers and leaders I encounter, together with industry leaders elsewhere in the world, are too. But the question is, why are the Millenials not satisfied?

This deserves some scrutiny. During their formative years, parents and teachers told them they were special. And out of an errant desire to bolster their self-esteem, they were unduly and sometimes way too often, rewarded.

Then they hit the wall of the real world where suddenly they heard: 

‘They’re not special. Their mums can’t get them a promotion. You get nothing for coming in last. …you can’t just have it because you want it.’ Simon Sinek

The consequence? Adversely affected is their capacity to imagine, much less depth, work place imperatives such as accuracy, quality, expertise and experience - and the patience required for developing these over time.

Furthermore, while facing the onslaught of the reality check these circumstances guaranteed they were always going to meet, the world they are engaging out of hours is becoming increasingly skewed.

This skewed world involves the instant gratification of habitual indulgence in social media and the virtual world. Friendship groups are no longer characterised by meaningful and sustaining longevity. Instead, instant relief is found by turning to a device. Resilience found through learning to cope with stress, is now impaired through the inherent lack of social skills this environment far from promotes.

The richness of life, in fact, is and always was found through long term commitment to human development and wisdom-getting through real time connection. In the meantime,  Sinek says their sense of entitlement and impatience means ‘they (the Millenials) see only the summit, not the mountain.’

Author of A Fortunate Life, A.B. Facey, wrote his life story on reflection as an elderly man. He well understood that there are some things that are collectively termed the ‘stuff of life’ that come about through time and trial. The joy of living, of really connecting with others, of achieving well-honed skills and capacity are not quickly or easily developed. They need the testing of mettle, amid reflection, trust and hope and time.

I’m a leader and manager? Why do I care?

FranklinCovey say that people skills account for 80% of success in leadership roles. At the coalface, how do these people skills translate into creating the daily experience at work? We need to know - because leaders are indeed creators.

From Maslow to Covey and Hewlett, commentators are saying that leaders and managers offering best practice should:

  • commit to, and action, an immediate and strong developmental focus with their Millenial team members
  • create a psychologically safe environment where people matter and feel they belong
  • be connected to the needs of their people – all their people, not just the easily understood.

A corporate, data driven focus on productivity gains does not create a human developmental environment. There is a definite problem if the financial quarter can seem to take on far greater importance than the people chiselling away at the same coalface. Understanding market trends through data analysis is necessary, yes. But it should be in balance with our human needs and not at the expense of them.

Learn more on Corporate training

How to keep and develop the Millenials

What was your induction like? If it was like mine you were given the history of the organisation that had zero to do with your needs over the opening weeks of your career. I recall I was then thrust a leaflet of ‘all I needed to know’, which may or may not have been. And then I was told to feel free to ask any questions. The ‘sink or swim’ bad feelings and insecurities naturally came along in due course. But I recall I coped because I knew enough how to connect with the sustaining guidance and energy of colleagues, while at the same time remaining focussed on the big, long term picture.

Our Millenials need development that is real for them and their current needs. So leaders, promote a tangible, collaborative and positive forward focus. The command and control, top-down approach, for example, is yesterday’s news. Don’t forget! Success is not necessarily found in the image of those running the organisation. The modern call for diversity challenges us to embrace new and fresh perspectives that creativity thrives on.

Leaders, create an environment that proactively:

  • inducts the Millenials according to their immediate needs but that allows for exciting engagement in the big picture too. Let them see what’s in it for them every step of the way
  • sets them up for success through a staggered induction that ensures they’ll meet with success at the end of probation. Mentoring starts here
  • mentors them towards their hopes and aspirations
  • defines ‘the summit’ of their aspirations, but mainly defines ‘the mountain’ that must be trekked to reach those aspirations
  • breaks the career pathway into manageable and easily defined steps with exit points to other project work if this is desirable or required
  • requires agility and responsibility
  • allows them to name and use their strengths
  • promotes emotional intelligence


There appears to be no real difference from generation to generation at all, other than the life experience that defines each. Therefore, it is incumbent on people to engage and relate to each other. This will encourage your team members to understand and nurture each other when they each share their stories.

Perhaps we have a moral obligation too. The Millenials like others, are afterall, a product of the environment previous generations have created. So, let’s start communicating more effectively across the generational divide. Let’s address the real needs. In doing so I suggest this particular mountain pass will only be as difficult to cross as we make it.

Learn more on Corporate training

Andrew is from Sydney, Australia and has performed in leadership roles in education since 1992. Andrew is highly experienced in operational and strategic development. This includes leading and facilitating vision and policy formation, organisational auditing, curriculum design, development and implementation, staff performance reviews and professional development. He believes leaders must have a keen developmental focus for their colleagues.

Andrew is passionate about well-planned and relevant change management. He is equally passionate about the place of emotional intelligence, resilience and trust and the development of intercultural fluency, in the contemporary workplace.

It is of no surprise to him that there is an increasing call for leadership with compassion with a heightened sense of service.

Andrew has also undertaken clinical pastoral care in two Sydney hospitals, and aid and development work through a global NGO.