All Millennials Need Nannies

Oh, good! I got you here.

That’s how this blogging thing works, right? You use a provocative title to get peoples’ attention, and then you woo them back to reasonable thought with the words that follow. I didn’t make the title up based on nothing, though.

During my last job interview, my (now) boss told me, “I’m here to coach you and be a mentor. I’ll give you guidance and I’ll teach you, but I’m not your nanny.” I swallowed back the urge to ask him what he thought qualified him to assume I needed a nanny.

The thing about my boss is that he’s one of the best I’ve ever had. In fact, if you look through my articles on leadership, you’ll see that more often than not I use his actions as an example of HOW to treat your people. He’s one of the few leaders I’ve met that primarily thinks about people and their holistic development, rather than just the work they’re assigned to complete.

Another common theme in my writing is that people are the way they are for REASONS, and instead of feeling immediately put-off by how they interact with you, you should first question why they interact in that manner.

He told me he wasn’t my nanny because, by and large, today’s young people are uncomfortable with ownership and defensive toward character development. Millennials often feel that their employers should utilize their strengths and understand their weaknesses. That line of thought isn’t wrong, per se, but as with all things, balance is the critical element.

Throughout the interview that followed, I gave up a few parts of my story, not for validation, but because every good boss deserves to know who they have on their team. I told him about multiple deployments to poor, war-ridden countries, that I’d been through a divorce, and about several mistakes I’d made throughout my life both professionally and personally. I told him that I was in the process of selling my third house so I could buy my fourth, and that I’d been in charge of anywhere from four to eighty people throughout my career. That I’d experienced what it’s like to be the senior person in a state, making calls that would have far reaching implications to the company as whole. I told him about fostering abused children, and about my dream of becoming an author – about how I’d largely failed thus far in achieving it.

It wasn’t about boasting – it was about being forward regarding where I was at in my journey, so that he could decide if he was able to help me progress. It was one leader interviewing another – him to see if I knew how to follow, and me, to see if he was WORTH following. In the military, leadership isn’t linear. I’d gone from being in charge of force protection for half of a country, and then the next day I was asking permission to vacuum the sunflower seeds that a man had accidentally spit on the floor instead of in the trash can. Since I already spilled the beans about the results of my interview, you know that we both saw each other fit for the job, knowing fully that “fit” didn’t necessarily mean “perfect”. Good leaders aren’t always easy to follow, and I did struggle somewhat with going from being the man in charge of dozens of folks to being (once again) the lowest section of a short totem pole.

The comment about not being a nanny was a social misstep – to assume my ability based on my age, and it evidently put such a bad taste in my mouth that I’m using as a blog title nearly 5 months later. I’ve continued to earn my credibility at work and to try to correct the common misconception (generalization) about my peer group, but I also feel like it’s my responsibility AS a millennial to address the issue WITH my generation. We’re getting to the point in our lives where many of us are stepping into leadership positions, or even SENIOR leadership positions, and it’s important to explore the concept of first impressions. Yeah, it’s okay that you’re an introvert, but you still have to calm the butterflies in your stomach and look people in the eye when you speak to them. It’s okay that phone calls make you anxious and you communicate more clearly in writing, but you better also learn to march up to someone’s office and confront them about not performing. It’s not enough just to be nice all the time. My article about the downside of emotional intelligence explores how leaders still need to have grit and presence, not just empathy.

I forgave the misstep, knowing that my boss didn’t know me at the time, but I’ve learned since then that many leaders and even companies as a whole don’t really know how best to utilize or integrate their millennial workforce. Their uncertainty makes young people feel less empowered, and thus, perpetuates the problem.

What it boils down to is this: if you’re not confident in the young person you hired, that’s your error, not theirs. If you’ve got enough faith in someone to put an offer on the table, you should damn-well have enough faith enough to let them exceed your expectations. But don’t do so by telling them what you’re not – do so by letting them tell you what they are, and what they want to become.

Thanks for reading a long – for more insights into the millennial mindset, leadership, and culture, click follow or shoot me a message. I’d be honored to learn something from your perspective in the process.

-Dustin Stitt (The Quiet Visionary)

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