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Posted by Emily McCormick – 06 November, 2017

How do you define an effective leader? Is it someone who paves the way for others? Has power or influence?

Maybe it’s someone with the ability to command the attention of a room. Take a moment and think about effective leaders that you have worked with. What is it about those leaders that make them stick out in your mind?  By definition, ‘to lead’ means “to guide someone or something along a way”, but what is it that makes someone effective in doing this?

As the millennial generation rapidly becomes the majority workforce, it’s critical to create and employ, a definition of a leader that inspires the most effort, dedication, and growth from your millennial employees. This means truly understanding what millennials need from their leaders. A Forbes article about managing millennials explains six practices that 24-year-old CEO Mike Clum found successful in leading millennials.  Each of Mike Clum’s six tips is insightful, spot on, and should be put into action by leaders with millennial employees. The following three tips from this article resonated strongly:

1. Educates/ Gives context

Why? Millennials have been asking this question since they first learned to speak. Millennials thrive on having a complete understanding of the world around them. We want to both provide and understand the rationale for decisions made.

I recently made the transition from the medical field to the field of custom computer software. Some general business tasks, like paying bills, are similar from industry to industry.  However, many aspects of the role were, at first, far beyond my comfort level.  I have been working with a team to take an idea for a computer program and turn it into a functioning application. On this team, I act as a middleman between the customer with the idea and the people who make the idea into a product.  I am fortunate to have a mentor—a woman with many years of experience and extensive knowledge of the process.  She takes time to sit down with me and discuss, step by step, what I did and why I did it.  When something comes along that is incorrect or needs more clarity, she helps me understand so that we can improve my work together.  Six months ago, I did not know what business requirements were. Now, I can complete them with confidence, allowing developers to efficiently code the client’s vision of their application.

Active learning is a key component of the millennial experience. This style of leadership gives me validation as a reward for the things I’ve done correctly, as well as guidance and education to use as I move forward.  As I develop new skills, I am also learning how to lead a great leader.

2. Leads by Example

A millennial’s willingness to take on a task or dive in head first to a project is directly dependent on their leader. They will always be more willing if the task is something their leader has done or would do themselves. Of course, we know that a strong work ethic implies that when given a task, you do it. The key here is willingness. You can do a task happily and willingly or you can do it halfheartedly and begrudgingly.

Working at a pool during the summer, there are several unappealing tasks that come with the territory. On more than one occasion, I was assigned the task of cleaning the changing rooms…the gross, diaper filled, toilet paper covered, pee smelling bathrooms. It may come as a surprise, but I embraced my task, held my breath and dove right in.  Why was I so willing to complete this disgusting task? Because I knew, if my manager wasn’t at that very moment over in the food court ducked under a table scraping gum, she’d be in there next to me tackling the toilets that wouldn’t flush, or the drains clogged with hair.

My willingness came from knowing and feeling that I was part of a team. I had a leader that lead the way by going first. There was never a task below her caliber, just tasks that needed to be done.

3. Facilitates open communication

Having open communication can pave the way for an effective workplace by creating trust, understanding, and honesty. Millennials feel great value in being able to speak their mind and share their thoughts. As in any relationship, open two-way communication is an essential part of working effectively towards the same goal.

Just yesterday, I was in a rush to complete a task and in doing so, I made an error. My initial thought was to quickly undo and fix the error so that no one had to know. I decided that was not my best course of action.  I knew that correcting this error would take some time, focus and backtracking.  I immediately spoke with my team to let them know the situation and verify that they were able to take care of the next task without me. After that, I went to check in with my boss to confirm I had the best plan of action to make the correction.

If I didn’t work with leaders who work so hard to facilitate open communication and maintain an environment of trust, understanding, and teamwork, I might have been afraid to bring the situation to their attention. I might have attempted the quick fix and made the situation worse.

At the very beginning of this blog, I asked you to think about effective leaders that you have worked with and what made them effective.  What did you come up with? Did you think about your own leadership style? Were your opinions swayed by anything that you read here? Please comment and share your thoughts. We can all learn from each other’s experiences and suggestions!