Managing Mining Millennials: is it even possible?

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Managing millennials and teaching them to be great leaders is likely to present challenges to many mining managers.

As the mining industry – in fact many industries – begins to grow again, we old-timers (mainly baby boomers and gen Xers) currently running the show will find ourselves needing to promote younger people (millennials) into reasonably senior roles.

This is particularly true in industries such as mining, where people generally end up in positions of significant responsibility considerably earlier in their careers than in other industries or government agencies. I am quite sure many of us “old schoolers” would recognise this, as it would have happened to many of us, and it still happens today.   

However, managing millennials (if such a thing is possible) and teaching them to be great managers themselves is likely to present challenges many mining managers of older generations are simply unprepared for.

Harnessing the power of millennials for your business

I was reminded of this when viewing a video of a truly remarkable interview, given by the well-known Simon Sinek. He’s a British-American author, motivational speaker and marketing consultant.

The video has been viewed more than 250,000,000 times and dubbed “the interview that broke the internet”. You’ve probably seen it. Sinek was interviewed by Quest Nutrition founder Tom Bilyeu, who is a globally acknowledged expert in developing “the mindset of success”.

If you are a millennial, a boomer or gen Xer, finding yourself with the responsibility of guiding millennials, I highly recommend you watch the Sinek-Bilyeu interview. It is about 18 minutes long but it provides incredible insight into, and context for, these intergenerational differences. It shows us how enlightened business leaders can use that knowledge to deliver better workplace outcomes for both ambitious millennials and, importantly, their businesses.

However, if you can’t spare the 18 minutes, I have summarised the main points for you here.

Firstly, for background, here are the date ranges that apply (broadly) to the generations in question.  

  • Baby boomer: born 1943 to 1960 (aged 58-75 today)
  • Gen-Xer: born 1961 to 1981 (aged 37 to 57 today)
  • Millennial: born 1982-2002 (aged 16 to 36 today)

Sinek’s major points (and my takeaways) are:

  1. The baby boomers, mainly, created the millennials with their relaxed approach to parenting and education. Every kid was “special”

  2. Millennial kids got used to getting medals for coming last. Then as they got into the workplace where they don’t get anything for coming last, they’re no longer special

  3. Social media added to this, painting an unrealistic, fairytale type shine on everything. Everything was seemingly “fantastic” and “awesome”. But it’s not

  4. He describes an entire generation growing up with lower self-esteem

  5. Social media is even more insidious in his view. That little “rush” that comes over you when you check your phone and notice a message has arrived is caused by a burst of dopamine - the same that comes from alcohol, drugs and gambling.

  6. The difference is we have age restrictions on these but none on social media usage. It’s like leaving the house as parents and opening up the liquor cabinet for your teens in what is already a highly anxious phase during their adolescence

  7. Add to this a sense of impatience, created because of the immediacy of everything. Peruse Amazon today, ‘tick and click and bingo’, it arrives tomorrow

  8. Contrast this to the workplace, where success in terms of job satisfaction requires the forging of good relationships and learning all manner of soft skills. These take time: trial, error, feedback, failure and repeat. The opposite of “immediate”. More frustration and impatience  

  9. The majority of work environments care more about short-term numbers than teaching them the joys of fulfilment.

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So, what can we do to make millennials great leaders?

Firstly, yes, all the stuff you’ve heard before about millennials also needs to be considered. Their training needs to:

  • Be bite-sized
  • Be on-demand
  • Encourage exploration
  • Provide purpose.

But in addition, business leaders need to be braver and accept responsibility for delivering some of the core personal teachings millennials missed out on. Don’t be afraid to teach them about:

  1. Meeting etiquette
  2. Phone etiquette
  3. Giving and receiving feedback
  4. The process of project management and, by implication, an understanding that not everything good can be built immediately
  5. Shaking hands
  6. Body language
  7. Personal grooming
  8. Handling workplace conflict
  9. Written communication
  10. Teamwork
  11. Sharing the office kitchen cleaning duties (don’t hire a cleaner).

FURTHER READING: Why aspirational leaders should filter feedback

Millennials, I’m not attacking you!

Now this blog is read primarily by boomers and gen Xers in executive roles (mainly in mining), but for any millennials reading, please don’t start yelling at me for being negative towards you.

I’m not at all.

In fact, I actually believe you have incredible talents that are unique to your generation and you have a huge amount to teach employers about energy, speed, digital skills, a sense of wanting to contribute to a good cause, work-life balance, valuing experience over money, and, frankly, how to communicate with millennials generally.

These are all the things enlightened workplaces should be listening for and trying to implement as quickly as possible. Millennials can and will help us do this, and we can help them in return.

Some words of caution

Lastly, there are some things I don’t agree with or I would caution against. They’re only my opinion, but they’re worth sharing.

I don’t believe millennials are any worse than baby boomers. They’re just different. I recall both my father and grandfather starting many conversations between themselves and their peers with;

“Kids these days”.

Further, according to our General Manager Brad Thorp, the following quote is attributed to Socrates, who lived from 399 – 469BC

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

I don’t believe telling millennials they were dealt a bad hand helps them. It lets them off the hook. My view is they didn’t get dealt a worse hand than I did. They just got dealt a different one, in the same way gen Xers got dealt a different hand to the boomers.

At the core of all of this must be personal empowerment. It is often said the only way a bad experience or poor habits (be they in your professional life, consumption habits, fitness, and so on), can continue to hold you back is if you are unaware of them. Once you become aware, it is then your responsibility to take control of them.

This is easier said than done, I grant that, but once you know, it is now primarily your responsibility to acknowledge what you know is holding you back and do the work to help change it.

FURTHER READING: A wine bar theory every mining industry leader needs

I also disagree with the baby boomer or gen X senior executives who say, “I didn’t get managed that way, I just got on with it, so they should just get on with it as well.” Executives who have this attitude and act it out are part of the problem and are not going to get the best out of this different, but still amazing, generation.  

Millennials are entering the management sweet spot

Keep in mind millennials, born between 1982 and 2002, are aged between 16 and 36 today. So, in industries like mining, where senior roles with huge amounts of responsibility come early, many will right now be jumping (or being dropped) into the hot seat.

Open lines of communication will ensure we learn from each other and ensure this awesome generation succeeds as they gradually take over.   

Steve Heather signature
Steve Heather – BAppSc (Mining Engineering) WASM, FRCSA

Managing Director & Principal Executive Search - Mining People International (MPi)

Fellow/National Board Member – Recruitment, Consulting & Staffing Association Aust. & N.Z. (RCSA)

[email protected]