Passion and Power: A Generational Divide

In honor of Memorial Day and in appreciation and remembrance, we thought to share some insights on how the Millennial idea of leadership (laid back, informal, and non-authoritarian) and the military’s idea of leadership (strict, traditional, and authoritarian) seem to be at perfect odds with one another.

But what if the contrast between Millennial’s idea of laid-back leadership and the traditional toughness of the military is actually just a different side of the same coin? What if Millennials and the military are really compatible when they each take the time to understand each other just a little better?

Having worked with both Millennials and leaders in both the military and law Millennials, I know the common phrases that drive leaders nuts when they hear them. But I also know what Millennials really mean when they say certain cringe-inducing things.

The truth is, if military leaders look just under the surface, they may find there is less reason to be frustrated with the things Millennials say and more of an opportunity to build, coach, guide, and connect with these future leaders.

“Can I Take on a Leadership Role, Now?”

In every fiction, you can find a little fact. It isn’t necessarily fair to paint all Millennials with a broad brush, assuming they are all the product of an instant-gratification, everyone-gets-a-trophy childhood. But it is true that Millennials are confident in their abilities, are quick to ask about how they can take on more impactful roles, and they aren’t much interested in grinding for 20 years to get there.

Sometimes this does not mesh well with the structured, earn-your-stripes military. And with rampant Millennial stereotypes, it is understandable why military leaders would grow frustrated with Millennials seemingly asking to receive their dues before they are earned.

But Millennial’s interest in leadership positions is not actually about cutting corners at all. The real source of Millennial’s eagerness to move up the ranks is their passion, dedication and desire to make an impact as soon as possible.

Passion, dedication, and the desire to make an impact. Not bad characteristics of a service member either, right?

Similar to a corporate setting, we suggest military leaders harness that energy and passion by clearly laying out the path to larger, more impactful roles as well as by creating opportunities for Millennials in the military to make an impact all throughout their military journey. These opportunities to make an impact early and often, along with a clear vision of how their future may look, can help keep Millennials engaged throughout their military career.

“What if We Busted Myths and Did Things Differently?”

Receiving suggestions on how to do things differently from Millennials can be difficult to hear for some. With their reputation as the “me” generation, it is easy to blow off a Millennial’s suggestion or critiques as just another know-it-all Millennial trying not to conform to standard procedure.

But creating opportunities for Millennials to share their insights is a chance for the military to utilize the ingenuity of young talent that has grown up with greater access to the wealth of human knowledge than any other generation in history.

Of course, there is a time and place. When it is time to get down to business, Millennials need to help with structure and follow orders and procedures as they are trained to do. But creating opportunities during off-time for Millennials to share new and innovative ways of doing things can yield valuable improvements for how things are done in the military and at the same time helps retain Millennial talent by allowing them to feel they are making an impact.  This is similar to what was shared in our article about reverse mentorship as the key to success for millennials and law firms.

“Hi, how are you?”

Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie cemented the idea of the informal Millennial in pop culture. Though Silicon Valley was always laid back, it was Millennials who relaxed dress codes, made professional relationships more personal, and helped flatten organization structure across the country.

Of course, tradition and formality are cornerstones of the American military, and for good reason. Military leaders should expect that as Millennial recruits exit the buses at Basic Training, they may take longer than previous generations to adjust to the structure and formalities of military life.

There are ways to help this transition along. For example, making sure that Millennial recruits understand why things are done the way they are can go a long way in Millennials compliance in behaving as they are expected. Military leaders don’t need to bend over backward for Millennials, but a little explanation can go a long way in preserving worthy talent.

The military, as well as other professions that emphasize structure such as law enforcement, do not need to be at odds with Millennials. Though at first glance they may appear to be polar-opposites, Millennials actually have a lot to offer the military and other services with a rich tradition. Of course, it will take Millennials adjusting to a more structured and traditional environment, but leaders in the armed services can help this tradition along by taking a moment to really hear what Millennials are really trying to express.  Just listen.

The concepts I’m talking about are simple, have been around for years, and work with all disparate groups, however, to implement them isn’t always easy.  Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to help you see what small changes can be made to make a big impact overall. At launchbox, we do this kind of thing every day, from a personal one on one level all the way up to large organizations.

As an example of connecting and bridging the gap between military and civilians of all ages, as part of this blog, I want to mention an organization that has been extremely rewarding to work with, The Honor Foundation, which is a tremendous resource for Navy SEALs and the U.S. Special Operations community transitioning out of active duty and into civilian life. We’ve provided their members with a custom version of our Strengths & Story workshop to help them be able to translate the skills they acquired in the military and articulate them in a way that allows them to connect with a recruiter or hiring manager when they’re looking for a civilian job.  It’s been a privilege and an honor working with these exceptional people and seeing how they apply the dedication, skills, and passion that they have obtained from their service careers towards new professional opportunities.

If you have any questions or comments about what we do, shoot us an email or give us a call and we’d be happy to share a few things you can do to make a change that’ll help your different generations work more effectively and productively together, dan@launchbox365.com or 858.314.9867