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The Death of the "M"-word

For years now, we've been inundated by leadership "experts" telling us how different generations think, what they want at work, how to best lead them, blah blah blah. Hardly a conference or seminar goes by where there isn't some sort of offering on generations at work. They talk about how we have 5 generations under the same roof, and all the challenges that can cause. They paint a picture of groups of people who are so hopelessly different, that there's no way they can possibly work together succesfully. And there's one group in particular that attracts a brunt of the scorn. I'll give you a hint: it starts with an "M" and ends with "illennial." Or as I'll be henceforth referring to it, the M-word.

Why do I hate this word so much? Because it's dismissive; it's minimizing; it's segregating. Its mere mention evokes negative stereotypes of people born between a certain set of years. Those of us unfortunate souls (yes, I'm one of those scary M-words...), we are relegated to constantly trying to prove the perceptions wrong, show the world that we aren't hopelessly connected to our devices, that we aren't ready to quit our job every time our boss looks at us sideways. What happened to talking about what we have in common? What happened to treating people like individuals? Frankly, this whole discussion needs to stop.

People are looking for a simple answer to a very un-simple question: How can I get the most out of my employees? The idea that each person is different, the idea that each person requires a unique approach to make them the best version of themselves, is just too much for some people to comprehend. And it's certainly more work than they counted on. They want a simple answer, something that they can teach to all of their managers that will instantly raise the level of performance in their companies. The problem is, it just doesn't work that way.

People are complicated. People are messy. People don't fit nicely into a box based on a few specific demographics. In my experience, there are often more differences between people within the same generational group than there are between those in different groups. Being a leader is hard, because there isn't a simple rule book to follow. There are no easy fixes.

Being a leader is complicated, because people are complicated. There's no escaping it. If you don't think you can handle it, then don't be a leader. But if you decide that it's the path for you, your first job is to wipe the M-word from your vocabulary. And strike the name of every generation from your vocabulary while you're at it. It will get you nowhere. It's a losing hand at poker. It's a wish that will never be granted. It's a promise that will never be fulfilled.

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