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The PeopleCap Playbook

Timely insights and actionable people strategies for leaders.

Leading Young Employees

baby in a necktie

A lot of leaders are struggling to lead young team members effectively. And sure, some of it relates to the Millennial generation. There are generational markers that shape our perspectives: My generation had MTV and Nintendo, Millennials have social media and smart phones. Those things definitely shape who we are. But I also think many of us Gen Xers were ambitious, impatient, wanting the world and quite convinced that we could be doing a better job in the CEO’s chair (okay, well I certainly was). I remember wanting more flexibility, more autonomy, more influence and more money.

It’s short sighted to blame Millennials and brush aside the real, hard work of growing young employees to reap the rewards of their incredible talents, energy, and ideas.

In my work, I often interview Millennials, and I am reminded of the younger, highly energetic, opinionated woman I used to be and feel eternally grateful for the incredible leaders who invested the time and effort to shape me into the more thoughtful, mature, and – yes, I’ll claim this one – patient Katie I am today.

What did these incredible bosses and mentors do to guide and develop the younger me?

  • They were patient with my impatient self. They listened to me go on and on about things I now know they knew much more about. But they didn’t tell me to stop talking or make me feel I wasn’t as knowledgeable.
  • They listened to me even when they had a lot of more pressing things to do. They didn’t listen to waste their own time – they listened to invest in my enthusiasm and to help me grow my own ideas.
  • They also listened because I did add new thoughts, new angles, new approaches. And I did bring them renewed energy. They valued my contributions and made sure I knew that.
  • They built trusting connections with me and kept what I now understand to be clear boundaries within close relationships.
  • They provided me opportunities to expand my influence as I displayed my commitment to hard work and showed my own growth. At the same time, they held me to the fact that leadership and growth do not materialize overnight – that I would need to balance my drive and determination with my own patience.
  • They denied me opportunities when appropriate and explained why. This may have been the most important element of my growth – to understand that people can care and think you are amazing and yet still know that you’re not ready or someone else is better suited for an exciting chance to lead.

Young talent brings energy, ideas, and a new perspective to your organization. With all of their enthusiasm and drive, they can also bring frustration – yours and theirs. It takes commitment and intentional effort to mentor young employees. Help direct and mold that energy: mentor and lead them to become the employees who will take your organization to the next level.