Manage with Dirty Hands

Take for example the millennials’ obsession with Bernie Sanders is a positive manifestation of the conflation of flatness of information and value of information. Millennials have helped Bernie prove something substantial and meaningful for the Democratic party, even if few people are talking about it right now. Bernie’s campaign proves that Democrats can raise a ton of money from small donors without resorting to using big money bundlers.

Millennials have mistakenly identified Bernie’s cause as sensible in part because of their own insulation of late (once 85% of a group believes something, it absolutely is socially self-reinforcing), and in part because their belief that they can find “truth” on the internet that defies what the major TV news channels are reporting. This lack of trust in authority has important ramifications for managing millennials.

Millennials are very cynical. They grew up knowing their parents’ generations were crazy – they grew up watching a slew of child molesters and deviants impeach the highest authority figure in the world for getting a blowjob in the Oval Office. Our parents are not over Watergate, and still don’t trust the government or the president. The luckiest of us grew up and went to college, and inherited an economy that is rigged against us by a generation that has looked after itself right into massive credit card debt.

It’s not just that we don’t trust authority, it’s that because we believe that all information is out there, accessible to anyone, we don’t even respect authority. When we see a stupid process or stupid system or dumb old way of organizing a business, it doesn’t make us nostalgic for the days when people used a Rolodex, it validates our disinterest in the power structure the boomers have set up. If you want to be a good mentor to a millennial, start by being honest, really honest, about what you do, how you do it, and what that does for your company. No millennial is going to buy the nonsense corporate platitudes, but they need to know they’re not just a line in a budget and can contribute meaningfully (even if the contribution is microscopic) to a broader goal.

If you want to make your millennials trust your work ethic (which leads to respecting you as an authority figure), then getting your hands dirty makes a huge difference. A manager who flies by to check in on a project in process is not respected, while a manager who takes an active role in planning, sets a firm timetable for completion, and genuinely asks for feedback about management styles will earn respect.

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