Courageous Accountability—How to Develop Millennial Leaders

millennial leader

Throughout history, the senior population tends to think each younger generation is “going to hell in a hand basket.” Today, these concerns seem to grow even louder, so “where’s the beef?” One common concern about the Millennial generation is that their values about work reflect a greater disconnect than we’re accustomed to seeing, and it could be because no generation in history has been raised in such an affluent, “provided and protected” era. Given the culture of our society, it shouldn’t be surprising that Millennials have something to learn about responsibility and resiliency.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Millennials have something to learn about responsibility and… Click To Tweet

A Broader Perspective

We’ve all seen examples of dysfunctional and cowardly leadership among senior leaders. This is disappointing to everyone, but especially to Millennials. So rather than wring our hands in frustration about Millennials or focus on the character concerns about Boomers and Gen X, let’s focus on what we can do to make things better for everyone.

The more important question is, “How do we promote honorable behavior and collaboration for all ages and levels?” This challenge offers a great opportunity for bringing together the various generations to strengthen accountability. Sounds nice, right? But how do you do it?

The Courageous Accountability Model

Everything hinges on today’s current leaders. We must first set the example by being accountable and then developing our people toward a culture of accountability. The core of a strong Courageous Accountability Model in leadership must be character, courage, and commitment. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s such a challenge that no leader can do it all the time, which also means being open, honest, and vulnerable about our shortfalls. This method of leadership may sound scary, or even counter-intuitive, but real courage allows us to authentically live and lead with honor. Millennials are attracted to authenticity and genuineness, and they’re quickly turned off by hypocrisy. They’re more likely to trust and be drawn to leaders who are truly grappling to do the right thing and growing right in front of them.

Real courage allows us to authentically live and lead with honor. Click To Tweet Millennials are attracted to authenticity and genuineness, and they’re quickly turned off by… Click To Tweet

Below are the four steps of the Courageous Accountability Model to lead young people toward greater accountability, higher success, and in the process provide significant personal and professional growth.

Step 1 – Clarify

Millennials don’t automatically see the world the way their seniors do, so leaders will need to put more effort into clarifying. Gen Y’s tend to be visual multitaskers who don’t read as much as previous generations. More time must be spent clarifying the depth of the mission, vision, values, and standards of the organization. In addition, more than previous generations, Millennials want to know “why” they are being asked to do something. They’re looking for a big picture, cause-driven purpose, so it’s critical for leaders to clarify—with explanation, discussion, and openness with information—how their work relates to something that seems truly important.

It’s critical for leaders to clarify how their work relates to something that seems truly… Click To Tweet

Step 2 – Connect

Regardless of age or generation, human beings want to be valued and appreciated. We want to know that our work counts and that we’re important. It’s a two-way connection that involves both speaking and listening. All of us want to have a voice and be heard. Surveys with hundreds of leaders revealed that the most valued attribute of leaders is that “they listened to me.”

Regardless of age or generation, human beings want to be valued and appreciated Click To Tweet

This type of respect and affirmation connects to our hearts, lifts our spirits, and causes our brains to release endorphins, giving us motivation and energy for our lives and work. It’s important for everyone, but even more so for Millennials. This is the generation that “graduated” from kindergarten and received a trophy just for participating on teams, so they have been raised on positive feedback. Connect at a heart level with everyone—from brand new team members to your top leaders. It’s a powerful tool in building a results-focused culture that attracts and inspires top performers.

Connect at a heart level with everyone—from brand new team members to your top leaders. Click To Tweet

Step 3 – Collaborate

In our information age, collaboration has become critical for everyone. Millennials especially value being included in the discussion. Though they may not be the experts, they know how to find information and answers quickly through technology. They tend to view managers as coaches and mentors, and inclusion is important to them. They see the world as a place where communities come together to solve problems. They generally thrive on collaboration and dialogue to find solutions and get work done. Providing positive yet direct feedback and coaching for correction is crucial to collaboration and eventual mission success.

Providing positive yet direct feedback and coaching for correction is crucial to collaboration Click To Tweet

Step 4 – Closeout (with Celebration or Confrontation)

Leaders who are intentional in working through steps 1-3 are very likely to achieve successful outcomes that call for celebration. Millennials love a safe, flexible, and fun environment. Taking time to celebrate individual and team success is especially important for Gen Y.

Taking time to celebrate individual and team success is especially important for Gen Y. Click To Tweet

However, if things do not work out, you the leader can’t be surprised. You’ve already seen problems and clarified, connected, and collaborated with course corrections along the way. Now you must courageously carry out the negative side of accountability which means administering well-thought-out consequences. This step takes courage and belief that you’re taking a needed and helpful step for the individual, the organization, and your own leadership credibility.

Leading from a foundation of Character, Courage, and Commitment is powerful because this core enables you to follow the four-step Courageous Accountability Model outlined here. By clarifying expectations, connecting with people’s hearts , and collaborating with them to help them succeed, you’ll see performance and morale go up. Additionally, you’ll be providing an honorable example of authentic leadership—exactly what is needed to help Millennials develop into the leaders we all need for the future.

lee ellisPresident of Leadership Freedom® LLC, Lee Ellis consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, team building, human performance, and succession planning. A retired Air Force Colonel, his new book is titled Engage with Honor: Building a Culture of Courageous Accountability. 

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