Raising Up a Generation: How to Call Millennials Into Leadership

by Jessie Cruickshank

The leadership development of Millennials is often more a discussion of struggle and disappointment than how-to techniques. I believe that this is due to a foundational miscommunication between Boomers/GenXers and Millennial regarding what it means to be a leader.  Boomers see the best leader as the person who has been there the longest, has the most experience, and just plainly has earned it by paying their dues. GenXers see the best leader as the person who is the most competent at the job, who can communicate clearly, has the right skill set, and will move the organization/group from point A to point B most effectively[i].

Millennials see leadership differently.  If you think about the life experience of a Millennial, most of them did not grow up in two-parent homes. Also, the fall of major national leaders in all sectors is often splashed across the news, so they came of age with little trust in leadership.  They see little value in hierarchical organizations where one person has the responsibility to do it all, or fail spectacularly. They think that model of leadership is not useful or safe. Combine this with the issues concerning fear of failure, and point-person leadership is often a non-starter with Millennials.

Instead, Millennials, who as a generational cohort primarily value community, gravitate towards flat structures and group-based models of leadership. They like committees and small teams making decisions together. That structure is safe and builds/maintains relationships.

So, how do you use the paradigm of Millennials to bring them into leadership? Some of these techniques are about them, and some are about you.  You can’t do what you have always done and you can’t lead how you have always led. But these small tweaks can help make a difference.

Call Them Up!

Millennials are afraid of failure and they find safety in the group, so they don’t raise their hand and volunteer for things individually. If you are generally asking for someone to step up and take on a needed responsibility, don’t expect them to respond.  Instead, get to know your Millennials individually and call them to a high level of involvement based on their unique giftings or something you see in them. They want to be seen, but they won’t show off. They want to be known, but they won’t be the first to talk. They want to be celebrated, but they will be selective with whom they share their true selves.  In short, you have to pursue them, build relationship with them, and call them up individually based on that relationship.

They need to know the “Why?”

To help Millennials move into leadership, you have to show them how a given role will help them know more of God. They won’t fill a need simply because it is there; it has to connect with the depths of God. For example, “How will serving in children’s ministry help me experience more of God? How will serving as an usher help me experience more of God? How will giving my money to a campaign help me experience more of God?”

You have to answer these questions for yourself and then communicate them consistently. Maybe it is not just about experiencing more of God individually, but starting to experience Him corporately. That idea will be really intriguing to Millennials.

Relationship is Everything

Commitment is scary for Millennials. They have few good role models demonstrating healthy commitment. Instead, they have seen the generations before them burn out, fail, and come to the conclusion that they spent their life and energy in the wrong place. Millennials don’t want to make that same mistake, but they don’t know what the right answer is. They don’t know the right thing to commit to, so they flounder.

But those who find the deep love of God find a safe place and something worth committing their lives to. I have seen this revelation transform Millennials and give them courage. What Millennials want is not religion, but true and deep relationship with God and with others.  Show them how a deeper level of engagement grows relationships, and is not about religion or projects that simply keep the organization functioning.

Demonstrate Conflict-Management

To take the risks that leadership involves, Millennials need to know that they are entering into a rejection-free environment. That rejection-free environment needs to be set by the pastor, their supervisor, and hopefully other team members. They also need standards and boundaries, but they need to be set in place and communicated out of love, so that the Millennial leaders can be corrected in love and without rejection. If this is new concept to you and confusing, find a Millennial that will be honest with you and ask them to explain it. These concepts will have to be in place for Millennials to join and stay on your teams.

Millennials will also need to be coached on how to overcome adversity. In their experience, quitting and avoiding conflict is what has been modeled. They may not even know there is a different option than “going our separate ways.” Be very clear and transparent in how you manage conflict and intentional to train them in this specific skill set. Help them build resilience and learn about healthy authority.

Provide On-the-Team Training

Because of the factors described above, many Millennials have had little leadership skill training. They have leadership concepts and team skills training, but many do not have previous actual leadership experience. They will have gaps in their skill sets, but they will also seek development in those areas and appreciate the investment from others. They want to know others care about them and one of the ways that is communicated is by recommending and providing specific development that is relevant to them personally. They don’t find this offensive as previous generations do; to them it means you see them and care for them.

Specific training you might want to plan to include: work ethic, how to work with team members who are not in their authority tier or age group, and professionalism. Provide on-going training and development opportunities for your Millennial leaders. Demonstrate that you value them by investing in them.


[i] If your organization is in this transition, you are probably moving from 60-year-old leaders to 45-year-old leaders. If you find that hard, know that many innovative organizations have CEOs under the age of 50 and you are risking aging yourself into extinction.

This article was originally published by  on September 27, 2018.

Jessie Cruickshank
Author

Jessie is a licensed Foursquare minister and regional denominational leader. She's a demonstrated disciple-maker and experiential education neuroscientist. She is a nationally recognized leader in the fields of Experiential Education and Educational Neuroscience and holds a Master’s from Harvard in Mind, Brain, and Education. Jessie is a published academic and has edited several books on the application of neuroscience and cognitive psychology to the field of education. She and her husband currently live in Denver, CO.

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