Nov 05 2018 • By

Motivate Your Millennial’s: Three Mindsets That Will Help You Understand and Better Lead Your Team

When we ask most managers what they want more of from their team, it’s often motivation. When we leverage some strong coaching questions aimed to uncover the root of the motivation challenge we come to some interesting conclusions. While anemic motivation can be caused by many factors, frequently the challenge stems from managers methods for leading millennials. There can be vast differences in the thought process of how a millennial wants to be led and the leadership mindset of other generations. Once these differences are uncovered in our coaching sessions, and action plans are created to address them, they help managers lead and motivate their millennials. This article contains some of the insights and key differentiators we’ve coached managers through when it comes to, gen x (like myself), gen y, and baby boomers leading millennials in the workforce. We want to share them with you in hopes of helping you motivate your team of millennial employees and ultimately keeping these great players on your team longer, and helping them achieve even more!

Millennials like to think for themselves!

“I’ve told them to do it 1,000 times but they won’t because they’re lazy, I’m tired of asking, I’m tired of telling, I’m sick of yelling.” The frustrated manager complained after I asked him, “What has caused you to give up on asking them to do what needs to be done here?”

After my tenure as an NCO in the Army, I dove head first into the auto industry. One of the reasons it was such a smooth transition for me, was the similarity of how one leads people in both industries. In both the military and car business there is a clear hierarchy, managers lead by title, give explicit instructions, and expect the employee to do what they say out of sheer blind obedience. From the action or activity to the message being communicated, it’s a do as I say the world in both industries. This works great when the leader is extremely competent, and the follower is both trusting, precise, and compliant. Yet, the model has massive limitations because people become reliant on one person, the manager, to handle all challenges. Take the boss out of the equation after a long stint with this style of leadership, and employees often become unable to solve even the most simplistic challenge. No manager equals no crutch for the employee, and no problems get solved. This is one of the downfalls of blind obedience management, it’s not scalable.

Millennials have been taught to think for themselves. They solve problems well and often enjoy doing so. If you rob them of their ability to do just that by leading them through blind obedience then you steal one of the key factors that help them enjoy work! Adding value by problem-solving. To effectively lead millennials managers need to let go of their desire to be the hero and save everyone. Managers must free themselves of the need to constantly involve themselves in the tactical actions of the day-to-day and trust your team to handle problems. Do this by asking them for their ideas implementing them and reviewing their results together. Have them come up with new ways to solve old problems. Instead of explicit instructions, give them direction and advice based on their game plan. This keeps your millennials engaged and helps them be part of the solution. This helps reassure them that they are making an impact. If they feel they are making an impact, they will enjoy their job that much more. These different generations have a powerful resource in navigating today’s business challenges in millennials. That is, only if your ego is small enough to invite them to the table of leadership and value their input.

Millennials don’t just do it for the money!

The GM frustratedly and rhetorically posed this statement/question in the sales meeting, “There were 15,000 dollars in bonuses on the table this month and NO ONE even tried! Do you not care about money?!” He clearly wanted them to be motivated by the fiscal opportunity. I remember thinking, “Eureka! You figured it out.” After having conducted a cultural assessment for this store, Car Motivators had already uncovered money was NOT they the key motivating force for this primarily millennial sales team.

Gen-x and older, on the other hand, grew up in a financially motivated workplace. It was and still is for many in these generations, all about the money. I fell into this trap, and as a high paid sales manager in the auto space, found myself operating at a lower capacity than I wanted. My motivation level as driven by income had diminishing returns. Then one day I promoted my first few employees. One employee had worked hard for me for several years and had gone from entitled riff-raff to telling me, “I’ll do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes to move up under you.” and he did just that. He had earned his promotion! It gave me great pleasure to promote this lad. This became a new purpose for me, after uncovering this by accident I had a new reason to lead: Help others move up in their career! This new purpose drove me, drove my results, and inspired me to inspire those that worked for me for years to come. Significantly more than any additional money could have motivated me.

Millennials are no different. They desire to derive true meaning and purpose in what they do. If the carrot on the end of your stick isn’t the carrot they want to digest, it will not motivate them! If your chief method for driving results and people is pushing the paycheck, don’t plan on motivating many millennials for very long. You can read more about finding a better reason to sell than money in my article: “Selling for the Money is Weaker Than Circus Lemonade”. One of my favorite documented coaching wins was when a single coaching conversation doubled a salesperson’s results almost overnight. He went from selling 10 cars a month for almost 3 years to 20 cars per month. We helped him uncover a deeper reason for selling, which was to donate to cancer research. After losing a parent and both grandparents to cancer, that was something that would inspire him. What a worthy cause! Help your millennials uncover what drives them, because they may not know how their career can help them impact what they want most. If you do help them find a deeper and more motivating reason to do what they do, you will earn their loyalty and provide the inspiration it takes to motivate your employee for years to come.

They appreciate and are inspired by recognition!

“Is it wrong that I just want them to do their jobs? I do mine all day and don’t expect any praise!” The General Sales Manager questioned in our leadership workshop while we were discussing the requirements to generate motivation and desired behaviors. The answer to that is, “Yes, it’s wrong.” Here are several reasons why.

Do you consider doing your job to its fullest capacity, with complete competence, and always giving 150% no matter who is paying attention the only way to work? If so, you are like me. As a manager, then you also need to know that by not giving praise you simply are not operating at full capacity. This is because of the psychological principle of positive reinforcement. Give something for the desired behavior and that behavior is much more likely to be repeated than taking something away for an undesired behavior.

Sure many employees, not just millennials, appreciate great praise for a job well done. Beyond that, when you give them specific feedback as to what they did well, how what they are doing is positively impacting their company, and what happens if they keep it up, you are inspiring them to do it again, and again. Saying nothing at all and expecting them to continue doing what worked for them, is a management mistake. Saying “good job” isn’t enough, and doesn’t have the same effects on behaviors. As much as I love to joke with many of the amazing millennials I coach about them getting trophies even if they miss a goal, they know darn well I will always tell them what they do right. I want them to know which desired behaviors are impacting their results!

Regardless of the generation, you come from, if you are in leadership, a great quote from an amazing coach applies: “My job is to find 40 different ways to move 40 different men.” – Vince Lombardi

This quote couldn’t apply more than it does to leading millennials! Let them be involved in your company and it’s challenges by asking their opinions. Allow them to solve problems for themselves and follow up by providing wisdom and guidance on their action plans. Help them discover a deeper reason to do what they do, other than money. Finally, recognize them and spotlight them when they do what’s right. Trade in the old way of blind obedience management for these powerful new leadership strategies, just as you would an old car that’s starting to break down. If you do this, you can retain more employees, develop and motivate your millennials to another level. This will take a massive leadership burden off your shoulders and help you grow your department. This will ultimately make you the hero as your companies results improve. Here’s to leading millennials, what a great blessing and responsibility!

This is an excerpt in an upcoming book in sales and leadership by Sean Kelley CEO of Car Motivators. Car Motivators helps auto industry leaders achieve great results through their people and their technology. We believe training should be tailored individually to be real and relevant to your business. By coaching excellence into every member of your team together, we can create winning cultures of unstoppable champions at each layer in your dealership that will exceed expectations, communicate effectively, and be aligned to the direction you are taking your company. We would be honored to learn more about you and your unique challenges to determine if we could help you strengthen your culture and improve your results! Please email or check out our website at to achieve greater results through your people and technology! Sean also has a featured VLOG on and speak across automotive conferences across the country like Digital Dealer, Rockstar Auto Conference, AutomotiveGameChamers!

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