Management Styles That Millennials Will Actually Respond To

Millennials are the largest generation, but only 30% of them are actually engaged in their work. Millennials want to work, but employers are finding them hard to manage. Roughly 65% of the generation would rather work for themselves, indicating quite a bit about their preferred management styles.

We spoke with millennial execs and those from later generations who have had the gargantuan task of figuring out what management styles this cohort responds to best.

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Who Are The Millennials?

The Millennial generation title applies to any person roughly born between the years 1981 to 1996, give or take a few years. This translates to a population of about 73 million. This makes them the largest segment in the global workforce. If there are so many millennials, why are many still failing to understand how to manage them?

Leadership is all about courage. It’s the courage to take on a big challenge, to do what no one else will, to question the status quo, confront a difficult situation, and to not give up,” says Ron Nersesian, President and CEO of Keysight Technologies, and that much hasn’t changed. But what managers are forgetting when it comes to millennials is that this generation has grown up in a different world than the generations before or after, and that means changing the longstanding approach to leadership and trying out something different.

There is a gap between the management styles of my generation and the one before it. They had no trust in their employees and tended to micro-manage. Personally, I try to foster trust because I know my team is more than capable of doing the work they were hired for […] It’s hard to work independently when your own managers undermine you at every turn.” – Eric Gist, CEO of Awesome OS.

Transformational Leadership

There is a new kind of leadership millennials respond to; it’s called transformational. If you enhance the motivation, morale and performance will follow. A transformational leader has to be energetic, enthusiastic and passionate.” – Chris Hetherington, Founder and CEO of Peels.

This generation is smart. They grew up with information at their fingertips. If you don’t motivate them and boost morale, they will get bored and look elsewhere for opportunities where they feel like they are asking for a difference,” Adam Reed, CEO of Crown & Paw.

The numbers back up Adam’s sentiment, Millennials change jobs more often than any generation before them and they have the tools to do so with the internet and online job boards at their fingertips.

Democratic Leadership

Another type of leadership style this generation responds to is democratic. They want to participate in the decision-making process and have a say in the direction the company is moving in.

When we approach this generation with a participation mindset, we see they are quick to respond. Because they are so educated and collaborative, they feel like they really have something to add to company discussions, and we are quickly finding out that they do! We should be looking to them for guidance as much as we are looking to higher-ups.” – William Schumacher, Founder and CEO of Uprising Food.

We [millennials] communicate frequently. I did when I was an employee and I see the same thing with my own staff. They express their thoughts and share their knowledge. They respond well to continuous feedback for doing both.” – Carrie Derocher, CMO of TextSanity.


Millennials want leaders who listen to them, as do most people. Unfortunately, there is a disconnect between employees and their employers. Many don’t feel as though they are well managed and want to be heard. The perceived lack of appreciation leads to a high turnover.

Millennials get a bad rap as being entitled, but they really aren’t. Some of our employees feel as though they deserve a fast progression and want a promotion yearly, but an equal amount just does the work and does it well and don’t feel they are ready to receive a promotion. The common thread there is both just want managers like us to listen to them,” – Mike Clare, CEO of Mood Health.

Mentor, Don’t Manage

Millennials have ideas and they want them to be heard. 66% of workers want to have a say in how the workplace is run. This means they are seeking a workplace that has more collaboration between managers and their employees.

Rather than a traditional top-down decision-making process, millennials want to be encouraged to generate ideas in the workplace. This helps create an alignment between employees and the companies they work for.

We want to celebrate the unique voices and ideas each one of our employees brings to the workplace; not question them. Instead, they want to be listened to and guided. The more we try to mentor and inspire instead of manage, the less likely they are to leave and go to a competitor.” – Dan Potter, Managing Director and CEO of CRAFTD.

JT McCormick, President, and CEO, Scribe Media echoed this sentiment, “I believe the role of leadership, at its core, is to serve and support the people you lead by way of teaching, coaching, and mentoring — with the ultimate goal of growing more leaders.”

Be Empathetic

Does it even need to be said? We are all human and we all need to treat each other with empathy. Try to understand where your employees are coming from.

There is this horrible cycle of abuse that is so common in management positions. It goes like this; ‘I had a lousy manager who treated me poorly and now that I am in charge, I am going to do the same to my employees because I went through hell to get here and they should too.’ But this needs to end. It is toxic and no one is the better for it. Instead, show some empathy to those you manage. If an employee is going through something and needs to take some time off, try to remember a time when you wished your boss would have given you a break. We should try and leave the workplace better than we found it.” – Amanda E. Johnson, Chief Marketing Officer of HIDE.

Companies that implement empathetic leadership and try to understand and listen to their employees have seen improvement in both culture and productivity, which translates to overall success.

Millennials Respond to Flexibility

Millennials are all about achieving a work/life balance. It’s one of the biggest factors that lead them to an opportunity and keep them there for an extended period. Since the pandemic, more and more people in every age range are seeing the benefit in working from home, having flexible hours, using telecommunication tools, and having a say in what they need to do their job successfully.

Some feel as though millennials should conform to the old norms that have always worked, but this leads to a less engaged workforce. And there are more and more companies (especially in the tech sector) that are advertising better work/life balance. A company stuck in the past is sure to pay for it in the long run.

We all want to spend more time with our loved ones. The old way of doing things made that difficult to achieve, but the pandemic has taught us that it is possible to give workers the freedom to do their jobs how they want and when they want. On the employer side, we have seen that giving workers this freedom is actually good for productivity, not bad like we always expected it might be. Listen to your employee’s needs and give them the ability to be flexible. It will pay dividends in time.” – Ashwin Sokke, Co-founder of WOW Skin Science.

They Want A Better Future

And who doesn’t? Millennials are more passionate and more vocal than other generations when it comes to social impact. Company culture and social responsibility are two things that this generation is in tune with more than any other generation before them and both have a huge impact on where they want to work. Not to mention their interest in diversity.

Now more than ever, workers of all races are looking around at their coworkers and want to see diverse faces looking back at them. Companies that successfully stay at the forefront of social justice are seeing their employees stay around longer.

We need to be more public-facing and transparent with our mission statements and what we are doing to hit diversity goals. Millennials really want to feel like they are working at a company that is doing good because the overall sentiment in that generation is that companies are evil. The more we can change that perception the more millennials will want to join the team.” – Danielle Calabrese, COO of De La Calle.

Millennials are here for the long run, the faster we learn how to manage them in the workplace, the better the workplace will be.

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