How Millennials Are Rewriting the Rules of Management

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 26, 2020

By AMA Staff

Brad Karsh and Courtney Templin are coauthors of the new book Manager 3.0: A Millennial’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management, published by AMACOM, a division of American Management Association. Karsh is a workplace and generational expert who is president and founder of JB Training Solutions and Job Bound, companies dedicated to helping professionals succeed. Templin is the chief operating officer at JB Training Solutions, and is herself a Millennial. She sits on the board of the Chicago Society of Human Resource Management where she leads the Emerging Leaders Initiative.

The following has been adapted from an interview with Karsh and Templin for AMA’s Edgewise podcast series.

AMA: How are Millennial managers different from Gen X’er and Baby Boomer managers?
Brad Karsh: This is a pretty interesting topic, because what we have now is Millennials—those born between 1981 and 2000—entering management. As they hit their 30s, they’re taking over management roles that traditionally were reserved for Gen X’ers and boomers. And they’re looking at these roles very differently than other generations did.

Millennials are tearing down the corporate ladder. Fundamentally, when we think about a corporate ladder, we think about something that is designed rung by rung, up or down, and only one person can go up there at a time. Millennials think about management, leadership, and their careers very differently. For them it's not about going in only one direction. It's more like a career lattice or a career scaffolding. You may go up for a little while. You may move over laterally for little bit, maybe even drop down a few steps. You might be on that scaffold with a few different people at the same time. It’s about meaningful work and feeling valued at your company. And it’s about sharing those things with the people that you are managing. So this is very different from how the previous generations looked at it.

Another difference is the notion of breaking down the walls. If you think about some of the Millennial-dominated companies—Facebook, Google, and Groupon, among others— they’re mostly made up of open spaces. Literally, there aren’t big walls and big mahogany desks. But they’re also breaking down the walls in a multicultural sense. It’s about what we call looking out for information, as opposed to looking up. It isn't just senior leaders who have the answers. In a world dominated by Wikipedia and Google, information is out there, so go ahead and grab it.

AMA: Courtney, you’re a member of this new generation in the workforce. Millennials often get a really bad rap, just like Gen X did 20 years ago. What strengths do Millennials bring to the table as managers?
Courtney Templin: Yes, we get a bad rap sometimes, but we do bring quite a few strengths to the table. I think there are four that really stand out. First, we are so collaborative. We love working together in groups, in teams, really connecting with people, passions, and purpose. The second is we’re very good with change. We grew up with it. Our phones change every few months. We have to adapt and go with the flow. For years, Generation X and boomers had the rotary phone. Third, we are tech savvy. Technology is changing at a very rapid pace, and we’re able to adjust and go along with that. And finally, we Millennials love to build up our people. We’re very empowering. We’re all about the development of our teams.  We talk to hundreds, thousands of Millennials, and what they say is, “I want to be known for empowering individuals, helping my people find their passions, and getting people to see what they don't even see in themselves.”

AMA: Brad, what is the biggest opportunity for Millennial managers?
BK: If I had to single out one, it would be delivering and being effective with feedback. Sometimes, because they are so collaborative, Millennials have difficultly giving constructive feedback to the people they work with. They’re worried about hurting their feelings or that they won’t take it well. To be honest, a lot of generations have this issue, but I think Millennials have it more than the others. The fact of the matter is, to be effective as a manager, it’s really important to know how to deliver honest feedback. If you deliver constructive feedback more frequently and if you do it on a regular basis, it becomes less difficult both for the manager, very importantly, and also for the person receiving it. It becomes natural. It becomes normal, part of the daily work life, rather than something that brings so much attention it. So to us, the biggest opportunity for Millennials is getting really good at delivering constructive feedback.

AMA: Courtney, what should senior managers and executives keep in mind about Millennial managers?
CT: We are not pure evil! When it comes to the generations, no generation is better than the others; no generation is worse. We’re just different. We’d like senior managers to keep in mind that we were just reared differently, and we may manage, lead, and work very differently. I am always reminded of a quote by a 60-something employee: “We want what they want. We just felt we couldn’t ask.”

So on the whole, we would just ask that senior managers be open and more flexible to our new ways of leading, and that they really help us Millennial managers bridge that gap.

AMA: Brad, what should Millennials know as they step into management roles?
BK: First, they should understand the difference between an individual contributor and a manager—how you go from doing the work to leading, managing, and guiding the work. One of the things that’s difficult for Millennials is that their entire life has been predicated on what they themselves have done. Now there’s this big step to leading a team.  So even if an individual is great at getting work done, if he’s not leading his team effectively, if the people working for him aren’t being effective, then he is not being effective as a leader. That is a difficult transition to make, especially for newer managers, and especially for the Millennial generation that’s grown up very differently. 

The second piece of advice is to watch out for what I call a sense of entitlement. We do lots of workshops on how the generations can work together more effectively, and the biggest single beef that I hear about Millennials is that they have an inflated sense of entitlement. Actually, a lot of generations come into the workplace with a little bit of a sense of entitlement. So I encourage Millennials to hearken back to John F. Kennedy’s speech about country: instead of asking what is the company going to do for me, ask what can I do for my team, and what can I do for the company?

And finally, I would advise Millennials to do what we call “connecting to your team”—communicating more effectively, owning projects, navigating, negotiating, engaging, collaborating, and teaching. These are sort of the things that Millennials need to be thinking about as they step into management roles today.

Learn more about Manager 3.0: A Millennial’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management.

Here are a couple of AMA seminars that will help you hone your managerial skills:
Successfully Managing People

Management Skills for New Managers

About The Author

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