Millennial Leadership

by: Mike Acebedo Lopez

There seems to be this fascination, exasperation even, toward the millennial culture and mind-set expressed quite regularly on social media by many a boss or superior.

I’ve heard the same frustration from a number of human resource persons who complain about basically the same thing: a sense of entitlement.

The millennial generation, if they were boxed and profiled by their elders, is seen as an entitled bunch given to delusions of grandeur. But they are ultra-idealistic and conscious of issues like political correctness, climate change, and preserving ecology, perhaps more than any generation that’s preceded theirs. Idealism and caring about the issues our world is confronted with are essentially good things, but these are also what make millennials come across as though they’re God’s gift to humanity.

Idealism sometimes does that to a person — we start feeling like we’re better than everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my fair share of idealism as boundless as my optimism. I am, strictly speaking, in fact, an older millennial (but my taste in music, architecture, and practically everything scream “OLD SOUL” in uppercase). And yes, a distinction is made between millennials born in the early to mid-80s and those born after the period (although this all depends on which demographer or researcher you listen to).

For authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, who coined the term in the late 1980s, millennials are, generally speaking, those born between 1982–2004. Writing about the cohort in their books “Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069” and “Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation,” Strauss and Howe coined the term for the group because they were the kids who’re linked to the new millennium as the high school graduating class of 2000. I belong to the high school graduating class of 2000, by the way.

Howe, however, acknowledges that at some point in the future, a dividing line may slice through the demographic and create two distinct cohorts. Only time can tell.

Back to the idealism of this generation. When I served in government a decade ago, I found myself frustrated at the bureaucracy I initially set out to conquer and change. It wasn’t that easy after all.

As much as I was passionate and filled with energy, dynamism, and optimism, I was impatient and saw how everyone else didn’t seem up to par with my expectations and the standards I’ve set for myself and the world at large. But I left government service with not just a few lessons learned, and one of them, perhaps the most important, is that idealism is something you should only expect from yourself.

You set the standard and try your best to live up to that standard. Give it your best shot each time. Whether these standards have to do with ethics or your creative output, you make sure to meet those standards. If at times you fall short, you cut yourself some slack, apologize to others if need be, learn from your mistake, and move on, hopefully a better and wiser person. The pitfall is when you expect the same thing from others, worse is when you impose the standard onto them. This is the surefire path to frustration and unhappiness.

We all each have a post to man so we do what we need to do, do whatever we can when we could, care about the things most important to us, and essentially choose the battles we fight.
So I do try to get where the younger millennials are coming from; I was also similarly situated so I am in no position to judge. That said, I still find it hard to connect with the younger millennials and I feel smack in the middle of the adults who can’t figure them out, and the youth of this era who endeavor to figure everything out.

Millennials are all about passion, drive, a sense of purpose. They quit their jobs and renege on their commitments if their priorities change and things don’t seem to make sense to them anymore. They’re impatient and have to know why they’re doing what they’re doing as they’re doing it. Finding out later on (delayed gratification) seems such a tall order for many of them. This is the part I do not quite understand.

Also, there appears to be a duality to them. On the one hand is entitlement, on the other is the yearning to make this world a better place. I do hope they strike the delicate balance between idealism and reality because the worst tyrants this world has seen, the extremists, are actually idealists who feel theirs is the only perfect system and school of thought.

I look at many of our millennials and I am no longer surprised why many of them, especially those from exclusive schools, are attracted to liberalism like moths to flame.

P.J. O’Rourke writes in his book “Give War a Chance: Eyewitness Accounts of Mankind’s Struggle Against Tyranny, Injustice, and Alcohol-Free Beer”: “At the core of liberalism is the spoiled child — miserable, as all spoiled children are, unsatisfied, demanding, ill-disciplined, despotic and useless. Liberalism is a philosophy of sniveling brats.”

In a sense, there is congruence between the sense of entitlement that has, fairly or unfairly, typified the millennial generation and the kind of welfare state (dole-out mentality) liberalism tends to promote. I am not surprised there is attraction there.

Now don’t get me wrong. This is in no way an indictment against millennials and the kind of leadership they will soon develop as adults. As of yet, it is an unraveling phenomenon. We will have a better idea when they fully come of age, occupy positions of consequence, and make decisions that will hopefully change the world.

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