Millennials currently make up the largest generation working today and they are soon to account for over 50% of the workforce. It’s safe to say that leaders will serve themselves well to understand the people around them and that especially includes millennials.
Can’t find the right fit.
Right now, over 43% of millennials envision leaving their jobs within 2 years and only 28% seek to stay beyond five years. Millennial turnover is not without cost either, Gallup estimates that US companies lose some $30 billion a year from costs of millennial turnover and lack of engagement. Leaders are scrambling to find solutions to their hiring and retention problems throughout the country.
However, when millennials do find the right fit, they’re committed and work hard to change the organization for the better. Great Place to Work found that 88% of younger employees say they plan to stay long-term at businesses considered Best Workplaces for Millennials. Companies where leaders show sincere interest in millennials as people see an 8x improvement in agility and 7x increase in innovation throughout the organization.
What is Servant Leadership?
Servant leadership is a term created by Robert K. Greenleaf, but the idea of serving as a leader has been in existence for a long time.
Servant leaders put the needs of others before their own. They consider how they can best treat and develop their people, and that in turn benefits them and their organization.
The term is not meant to be taken too literally. A servant leader is not making themselves a direct report to those they lead. Instead, servant leadership is a philosophy that makes employees feel well-considered and cared for. Servant leaders make employees feel less like pawns and more like meaningful contributors, creating a high performing team environment.
Here are 5 reasons why the servant leadership philosophy resonates with the millennial workforce:
1. Millennials Crave Purpose
Compared to the US average of 55%, 75% of millennials said they would be willing to take a pay cut if it meant working for a socially responsible company. However, this doesn’t mean your company’s mission needs to be centered around social responsibility. Millennials want to know that their actions are having a positive impact on society. Your company’s mission should state the value you deliver along with a clear implication of whom you are delivering that value to.
Servant leaders are constantly looking for ways to reinforce their organization’s mission through their words and actions. Let your team see and hear how important it is to you that your organization’s product or service is bettering the lives of your customers. True inspiration is contagious. If you are a great leader, others will look to you as a source for their own motivation and you will begin creating an environment that makes people excited to be at “work”.
2. Servant Leaders Are Committed to Team Growth
Not only is the commitment to team growth important, but you also need to assume responsibility as a leader to actively support it. Invest in your people and they will help you create a better organization. In a study, 59% of Millennials report that opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them, compared to 44% and 41% for Gen Xers and baby boomers respectively.
Know when to intervene.
All teams have conflict in one form or another. A healthy team, similar to a healthy relationship, finds time to confront disagreements and create a path to unity. A leader’s role is to find the appropriate time to intervene in conflict. Teams need to feel as if each member has some autonomy. Letting them solve issues on their own will give team members a sense of responsibility and freedom within the team.
As a leader it is your role to be aware of the team dynamic. Be aware of team conflicts and become the driver behind their resolution. Take the time to find ways to help individuals on your team grow both professionally and personally.
3. Millennials Want to Be Heard
To be heard implies that someone is listening. How often do you speak to each member of your team? Are there regular opportunities for people to voice their opinions? Do you make it clear that everyone’s voice matters?
Karl Moore, Forbes Magazine
Listening has positive implications not only for your employee retention but also for operational performance. Never discredit anyone’s ability to produce a great idea.
Millennials take pride in their advocacy for others. Listening to one of them can have a positive impact on everyone. Conversely, ignoring only one of them can have a negative impact on all the others.
Making sure everyone feels heard by you will increase their respect for you dramatically.
4. A Servant Leader is Never Critical
A common criticism of millennials is the idea that they struggle to accept criticism. The truth is, most people don’t take criticism well. Great leaders find alternative ways to change the behavior of those around them in place of criticism. The idea of avoiding criticism has been around long before baby boomers entered the workforce. One of the best selling books of all time, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, emphasizes the importance to never criticize, condemn, or complain.
Practice positive reinforcement.
Millennials respond to a leader who understands them. Find out the driving reasons behind your team member’s behavior, then guide them in the right direction. Never miss an opportunity to praise or recognize them for doing something exceptional.
Feedback versus criticism.
The distinctions here are subtle, but they are not inconsequential. Understanding how to provide feedback and direction versus criticism is a trait of a great leader.
Feedback given correctly can be positive or negative. Your intentions and delivery here are more important than the message. Make sure you are interested in helping the team member grow, focusing on the future, and avoiding focus on blame when providing feedback. The setting and context under which it is delivered is just as important. The time and place for feedback needs to be warranted, such as during a monthly or quarterly review. Feedback, no matter how well-intended, should not be delivered in front of the office water cooler…
Servant leaders understand the importance of leading by example. Promoting self-awareness is a great way to have a team that self-regulates their behaviors. Being self-aware means having the ability to see how your own emotions and actions affect other people. From there you make adjustments, rinse, and repeat. People respect a leader with humility who understands their own flaws and shows a clear effort to correct them.
5. Servant Leaders Create Community
While it’s important to have a great personal relationship with individuals on your team, it can be just as important that they have great relationships among other team members.
The goal is to have your team feel like just that.. a team. Team members should rely upon each other, trust each other, and care for each other’s well-being. Not everyone on a team needs to be best friends, hanging out every weekend together, but it is important they feel a sense of community in the workplace.
No one gets left behind.
Having an isolated team member negatively affects the isolated member as well as others on the team, who then fear that isolation could happen to them. Having an inclusive culture within your organization and teams means that everyone is a part of the discussion and should feel welcome at any type of get-together. Office parties coming up? Philanthropic outings in the near future? Make sure everyone feels genuinely wanted, not just invited.