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Enough About Millennials

By Pat Lencioni - June 2016

Am I the only person in the world who is tired of hearing people talk about Millennials? Whether it’s a complaint about their entitlement mentality or a declaration of their brilliance, it all strikes me as shallow and simplistic.

Now, I’m not denying that every generation has a few things that make it unique. Today’s young people get their information differently than I did. I get that. And they communicate with one another using different devices than I did. No doubt. And I agree that they have different expectations around employment than I did. But isn’t that true of every generation? Why is it that we seem to be fascinated with this new collection of human beings, as though they come from another planet?

My fascination with all this is related to my most recent book,The Ideal Team Player, because it has ramifications on how we go about bringing Millennials into a workforce that is increasingly team focused. There seems to be a fear on the part of recruiters and hiring managers that they’ll be forced to deal with hordes of self-focused, isolated, and lazy geniuses who are incapable of working well with others.

As it turns out, there is a better way to think about hiring good people than focusing on a person’s generational stereotype. It comes down to looking for three simple, timeless and observable virtues that are reliable predictors of whether someone of any age will be a good team player. Thankfully, while generations change, the nature of teamwork does not.

The first and most important of the three virtues is humility. And yes, plenty of Millennials are humble. Humility is a timeless virtue, one that society will always yearn for, even when its celebrities and cultural icons seem to renounce it. Plenty of Millennials are just as tired of self-indulgence and narcissism as the rest of us. They’re capable of caring for others more than themselves, and have the ability to enjoy team success more than individual achievement.

Another critical virtue is hunger, the desire and willingness to work hard, to go above and beyond what is required for something worthwhile. While paper routes and lawn-mowing businesses for teenagers may seem like a thing of the past, hard work and sacrifice is alive and well among young people. The question is whether or not they’ve ever been made to work hard. I’m convinced that a large percentage of people in any demographic group, including Millennials, are capable of hard work, and a certain percentage are destined to be slackers. The key is finding the right ones to hire, and weeding out the others.

The third virtue that indicates that a potential new hire will be a good team player is what I call “smarts”, which is having common sense about people, and knowing how one’s words and actions impact others. While it may be true that Millennials have spent a disproportionate amount of their time using abbreviations and emojis to communicate, it doesn’t take long for them to adjust when they realize that the guy or gal sitting next to them in a meeting needs a little eye-contact and emotional connection. All human beings, yes, even teenagers, yearn for interpersonal connection and are capable of embracing it.

And so, let’s take a breath and realize that our society, and our economy, will survive the onslaught of Millennials. Companies that place a high priority on teamwork, on finding people who are humble, hungry and smart, will have no problem with them, or with any other generation for that matter.

In the spirit of this current generation, I’ll close with a tweetable summary:Teamwork is not limited to any one generation. Millennials aren’t so special. In fact, they’ll be just fine.