One day a senior director complained to me about the inexperience of a millennial professional serving on their team. I was appalled by their scathing critique of their less than experienced coworker because, I thought, it was their job, as a director, to coach them on how to raise their level of performance.
Listen, we all had to start somewhere and did not get to where we are without being coached by a senior-level leader. Unfortunately, this senior director forgot how they got to where they are.
At the time, this director and I had the same supervisor. I was leading a different division of the business and I needed additional resources. Our supervisor approached me and asked if I would be interested in bringing on the young millennial that my counterpart rejected. I agreed to take them under my wings, and they transformed into a stellar professional and crushed it. After this experience, I felt compelled to encourage all leaders to patiently invest the energy and time to help millennials grow to the next level. Here are my three empowerment cues for growing inexperienced talent.
When I refer to executive authority, I mean giving responsible individuals the meaningful micro-opportunities to exercise authority. This will help them learn how to make important decisions on a small scale without big negative consequences when they fail. Exposure to small amounts of power will build their trust and intellectual skills in exercising authority. Great leaders know this to be true because at one point in time, when they were inexperienced, an experienced leader shared their executive power, and they thrived. There have been numerous times that I have witnessed young inexperienced professionals blossom into confident executives after they have been given opportunities to make a series of important decisions.
Failures in performance are amplified when we speak negatively about ourselves. What we say to ourselves is more important than what others say about us. When we fall short, we tend to not be compassionate with ourselves.
Since thoughts stimulate feelings, negative thinking perpetuates shame and discourages action. Great leaders intentionally speak positive words to help create a positive mental picture to combat discouragement. Positive power language is an effective countermeasure against negative self-talk. Positive reinforcement stimulates hope and dilutes the power of discouragement. To be clear, I am not talking about sermonically hyping a person with emotional statements. This is not an exercise in motivational speaking. Speaking positive power language is about diverting the attention of a downtrodden person away from their bad thoughts to good thoughts that lead to meaningful actions. Positive thoughts equal positive actions. Your language must be objective and specific about what action the person should take to make things better.
One of the reasons some millennials never raise their initiative level is because of their fear of taking risks. Experts believe the fear of risk-taking was developed in early childhood. Once the child becomes a working adult, they carry this fear into their professional career. In their mind, risk-taking increases their percentage of making mistakes. But when you are trying to raise your initiative, mistakes are not a bad thing.
“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”John Wooden
Consequently, they exercise at a low level of initiative, and they depend on their supervisor to tell them when to act. Even when they know what to do. The best way I have had success in helping them overcome this low level of initiative is by positively disrupting their pattern of behavior. First, I encourage them to imagine the worst- and best-case scenarios when solving problems. Second, I help them to imagine how they will respond to the challenge and encourage independent decision-making. Sometimes I roll play to simulate the situation. This technique is known as practicing without pressure. The purpose of this exercise is to create a visual of themselves succeeding, and this will give them the mental frame of reference to assimilate.
As a leader, you must give opportunities to your team members to make mistakes and learn how to recover. This will help them to be more confident as they strive to raise their level of initiative.
For more leadership empowerment and self-development cues, check out my Nexcue videos.