Author Jan Ferri-Reed

It’s only a matter of time. The leading edge of the Millennial generation, now in its late 30s, is loading up the ranks of management. Over the next 20 years, Generation Y supervisors and managers will steadily replace Baby Boomers and Gen Xers at supervisory levels, including the executive suite. But are they ready for big roles?

The good news is that, for the most part, Millennials are excited about having the opportunity to manage and lead. As a group, Millennials are believed to be confident, ambitious, skilled and well-educated. They expect to do well in their careers and strive for an opportunity to exhibit their skills.

The Challenges Facing Gen Y Managers 

The first problem facing newly appointed Millennial supervisors may be the “perception gap” that exists between Generation Y and older generations. Older workers may suspect their Millennial supervisors lack the work ethic that got their predecessors promoted.

Millennial managers may also harbor certain stereotypes. They may view their older workers as stuck in their ways, staunch in their beliefs and late (perhaps hesitant) adopters of technology.  

Of course, these perceptions are generalizations. They may not be fair to individual workers and could interfere with Generation Y’s abilities to build trust and the older generations’ abilities to succeed under new, younger management. 

Millennials may also tend to underestimate their older employee’s skills, knowledge and contributions to the workplace. With less tenure in the company, they may not always be aware of the organization’s history, traditions and cultural expectations.  

Collaboration styles

Millennials are widely regarded as having a collaborative style of communication and teamwork. Unfortunately, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers may not have always had the pleasure of working for collaborative supervisors. After decades of management and organizational development, “top down,” formal styles of management are more familiar to many older workers. Employees who are accustomed to explicit direction may not respond well to supervisors who solicit input and give employees autonomy.  

There is also a risk that a Generation Y’s relationship with members of their own generation may suffer when they receive an appointment to management. This isn’t strictly a generational dilemma. Workers elevated in the ranks often find their former coworkers regard them as friends rather than superiors. This can become problematic when supervisors must give corrective feedback to an employee who remains a friend. It can be difficult to maintain the balance between being a good friend and an effective leader. 

Supervisory Strategies for Millennial Managers 

Most successful supervisors are made and not born. By implementing strategies for taking charge of the work team and building trust and respect, new Generation Y supervisors can be sure to get their management careers off on the right foot. 

Establish Two-Way Communication and Build Trust 

A great first step for a new millennial supervisor is to conduct one-on-one discussions with each of their employees. This time should be used to become acquainted (as needed), discuss the employee’s expectations and review the team’s goals. This is the best way to prevent future communication breakdowns and the best way to begin establishing trust with each employee. 

Establish Expectations 

Most employees are anxious to find out what their new supervisor expects from them as a team, as well individually. While it may not be necessary to establish new office rules, it may be best for new supervisors to review existing policies. This is a good time to clarify expectations, explain one’s management style and determine communication and coaching preferences. 

Celebrate Successes 

Ultimately, a team supervisor is responsible for ensuring that their team is successful in meeting the company’s goals. This also means that supervisors should provide positive feedback in addition to constructive feedback.  By celebrating team and individual successes, newer supervisors can gain leadership status and credibility with employees. 

Leaders of the Future 

There certainly are many other tasks, functions and skills that supervisors should learn if they plan on long careers in management. Will these Generation Y managers confidently take the reins and lead their organizations to greater levels of success? Or will they crash and burn? Perhaps only time will tell, but there’s good reason to hope for the best. 

About Dr. Jan Ferri-Reed

Dr. Jan Ferri-Reed is a seasoned consultant and President of KEYGroup®, a 33-year international speaking, training and assessment firm. She is co-author of Keeping the Millennials: Why Companies are Losing Billions in Turnover to This Generation and What To Do About It, and author of Millennials 2.0 – Empowering Generation Y.  Jan will be presenting her program at IMS New York in December. Learn more about Dr. Ferri-Reed.