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How to Empower an Overeager Millennial

The new breed of Millennials wants warp speed to the next promotion. Here’s how to manage their ambition and improve their performance.

Alvarez/Getty Images
Alvarez/Getty Images,
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Your new assistant really wants to help. She has great ideas—and isn’t shy about sharing them! If you don’t reply immediately, she’s happy to go to your boss to demand new assignments. Her ambition is spilling into obnoxiousness, and you want to channel her energies like a good mentor should. Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace (and a manager of high-performing millennials), explains how to lead brilliantly and harness that energy.

Think of the overzealousness as an opportunity, not a problem. “I hear Boomers and Gen X’ers say that they see these issues as a problem to be solved and dealt with. They need a change of mindset: See it as an opportunity. Hey, this person is super enthusiastic and super ambitious! How do we mentor them and get them in the right direction? A lot of tension comes from thinking you need to just put the issue to bed,” she says.

Millennials want frequent feedback. “Managers often think, ‘Oh, God, that’s a lot of time,..But you have to give it so the whole team will be more productive.

Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace

Set clear boundaries every month. Now that you’ve changed your mindset, lay out ground rules and revisit them monthly, lest the Millennial forget. Explain how things are done on your team, what the process is for sharing ideas, and how new assignments are assigned. Be transparent, she urges. Millennials want to understand how things work and a rationale for behaving a certain way.  “They want frequent feedback,” Meister says. “Managers often think, ‘Oh, God, that’s a lot of time. But you have to give them this time so the whole team will be more productive.”

Let them know where they stand. Explain how they fit into your overall culture.

You needn’t tell an overly ambitious intern that no, she really isn’t so great after all (tempting though it may be). But do give her a candid assessment so she isn’t expecting a promotion in six months. Say: “There are what I observed your strengths to be, and let’s focus on areas we both want to target next. This is a company with a process, and here, nobody is considered for a promotion for a certain number of months.” Then spell out how that ascension happens. 

Nip issues in the bud. If someone you manage acts too aggressive in a work setting, say so. Don’t let it fester. “Say, ‘I want to give you some feedback on how I think our meeting went and a better course of action next time.’ People have issues when things aren’t dealt with immediately. You’ve moved on, it’s so uncomfortable,” Meister warns.

Enlist a buddy.  Not every piece of feedback should come from you; enlist other colleagues to convey the same messages. “Otherwise, it’s easy for him or her to think you simply don’t get along. Make it a team issue,” she says.