The Wizard of Oz Approach to Leading Millennials

Born between 1978 and 1995, Millennials are causing many leaders to rethink their leadership approach in the workplace. How can we retain them? How do we communicate with them? Are we leading and training  Millennials to prepare them for the next step? Like any other generation, Millennials do not fit neatly into a one-size-fits-all package. While there are generational trends and tendencies, each individual is unique in their likes, dislikes, and behaviors. In 1939, MGM produced one of the greatest films of all time, The Wizard of Oz. Many leadership books, articles and training classes have been designed around this storyline. A young girl named Dorothy took a man with no heart, one with no brains, and one with no courage and turned them into a team that successfully accomplished its mission. That was quite a leadership feat! The Wizard of Oz is a timeless, classic movie with many lessons embedded in it.

Here are 3 ways to use The Wizard of Oz approach to leading and training Millennials on your team:

1. Purpose. “If we walk far enough, we shall sometime come to someplace.”Dorothy. Millennials want clarity of purpose as they journey down their yellow brick road. In a recent Gallup survey, respondents revealed, “They want their work to have meaning and purpose. They want to use their talents and strengths to do what they do best every day. They want to learn and develop. They want their job to fit their life.” If you leave them alone wandering down what they believe is a dead-end path, they will leave. Let’s not forget that many Millennials are at a stage in life where they are still figuring out what they like, don’t like, could do, won’t do, and love to do. We were all there once. Dorothy was a great leader who sought to understand the personal needs and motivations of her team, presented them with a vision of what that “someplace” looked like, and helped them to align their individual purposes with the overall mission.

What can you do? As a leader, you can create goals, leading and training Millennials, giving the flexibility and freedom to move on and off the path as they determine how they will reach them. Inspire them to take ownership of their daily success and failure by simply checking in with them for five minutes at the end of each day. Whether they believe their day was a success or not is irrelevant. What matters is that they learned something, and they need you to help them realize what it was.

2. Preparation: “True courage is facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.” – The Wizard. If you have worked in the property management industry for any period of time, you can attest to the fact that the flying monkeys, falling houses, and wicked witches will rear their heads in the leasing office. As a leader, it’s important to leading and training Millennials and mentoring them through each obstacle. The sink or swim approach that previous generations lived through won’t work with Millennials. In spite of the dangers, Dorothy kept her team people moving down the yellow brick road. She helped them deal head-on with obstacles to stay true to their values and mission, and she encouraged them along the way. This is how you develop this talented generation into future leaders. Unfortunately, few leaders are preparing these employees for their next step. According to Brandon Hall Group’s 2015 State of Leadership Development Study, only 20% of organizations identified the Millennial leader segment as critical for development, and few companies are investing in coaching or mentoring. How can this be when researchers estimate that Millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025?

What can you do? The good news is that you can take action right where you are because Millennials don’t need classroom-based leadership training. In fact, many will tell you that they prefer to practice new behaviors without leaving the context of their day-to-day work-life. So, expose them to those daily flame throwers walking into your office and the occasional house falling out of the sky. Allow them to soak in the failure, but coach them to come up with creative solutions. Don’t deprive them of learning how to problem-solve. When you cultivate courage and confidence, they will be ready to take on the next new challenge with or without you by their side.

3. Potential: “You are capable of more than you know….” – Glenda. Millennials grew up in an environment where they were very close to the authority figures in their lives. They were told they were special all of the time and they could have and be anything they wanted. They were launched with a very high self-esteem, and they often carry it into the workplace. While they are exploding with talent and have so much to offer employers, they are often paired with leaders who don’t have the confidence in their own ability to help another reach theirs. This often stems from insecurity and fear for their own job.

What can you do? Millennials work best with leaders who can help them discover what kind of impact they can make and then seat them in the right place, even if it is in their own chair.  In a 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey conducted with more than 7,800 participants, six “true leader” characteristics were defined.  Each one gives you the ability to uncover the true potential hiding within your employees. They worked for Dorothy, and they can work for you too.

  1. Strategic Thinking. Take the right action at the right time and see the big picture but still be able to focus on the small areas.
  2. Make employees love what they hate and make the undesirable desirable.
  3. Interpersonal Skills. Excel at communication, building partnerships, and fostering success.
  4. Cast a vision and execute it. Do not think in terms of “this is the way we have always done it” but instead “how can we improve to be even better”.
  5. Stay true to your word.
  6. Focus on purpose and passion more than financial results and profit margin. While results are important, Millennials want to work for someone who is passionate as well.

Millennials really do want a place that they can call “home”. They want to work for a leader who has their well-being, growth, and development as a primary focus. If you want to retain, improve communication, and prepare your Millennials for the next step, start leading with The Wizard of OZ approach.

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Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions