A Leader’s New Challenge – Coaching the Millennial


by Sarah Lane

The world of work is changing and in the global workforce, millennials account for nearly half of all people. For those of us in business who hit our teens (and beyond) in the 1990’s, the differences we face with managing millennials is tangible.

Those born between 1981 and 1999 are digital natives who have only ever known a world of ongoing dialogue and immediacy. They have an expectation of being coached in many different forms. A quick text catch-up followed by a 15 minute weekly meet up may just be enough to keep them focused and connected.

Millennials know that learning and experience have a currency, one they are happy to cash in either in an organisation or elsewhere, depending on what fits their needs and personality. They have been creating their CV almost from toddlerhood. With space at good schools and so many graduates in the job market when they joined it they know the importance of developing themselves and demonstrating progress.

Coaching is essential in any environment, and the flexible nature of coaching can suit millennials in the fact that most of them prefer frequent, quick check-ins to long conversations. To keep this generation engaged and promote dialogue here’s a few tips:

Encourage don’t tell

Millennials are accustomed to collaboration as an effective way of working. From parenting styles to teaching to sports coaching, they will have experienced this philosophy more than any generation before.  “Children are to be seen and not heard” is of a very different era! Once they receive consistent coaching and encouragement, the probability of becoming loyal and highly motivated increases.

State your intention

This is especially important where you are asking them to do something outside of their expertise, knowledge or comfort.  Their fear of failure is high and they do not want to disappoint. Knowing you are asking for positive intentions and not to test them is key to gaining trust and engagement.

Clarify any boundaries

Be clear on where the limits are and any expectations of specific behaviours.  Millennials have grown up in a time when there are fewer social boundaries than ever before. Knowing what is acceptable needs to be stated, not assumed.

Ask what they’d like

Knowing how they’d like to be coached and customising is key here.  They are used to being able to customise everything from their ringtone to their tattoos. This is about creating a mutually comfortable approach – not mollycoddling. The level of understanding you develop by asking what they’d like will benefit you both in the long term.

The best news of all is that all people want to feel valued, empowered and engaged at work. What the millennials are vocal about wanting is something all generations really need.  Continuous growth is something that all humans desire and coaching is a key part of this.  If we aren’t growing, then arguably we are dead – just like any living being. The way you and your organisation adapts to help this generation answer the question “am I learning anything here?” may turn out to be the very thing that gives you competitive edge and retain tomorrow’s talent.


Sarah Lane Sarah Lane is the author of Choices (Panoma Press). Sarah is an executive and personal career coach, trainer, facilitator, behavioural change specialist and busy mum of a 2 year old. She has spent the last 20 years working in and with people from all walks of life: from chief executives to charity fundraisers, FTSE 100 teams to media creatives.

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