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"We are raising a generation of deluded narcissists." Dr. Keith Ablow

Millennials are great. Just ask them. Eighty percent of college students view themselves as "driven to succeed," even though they spend less time studying. And more of them than ever consider themselves "gifted," even though test scores are on the decrease.

Rather than driven, they feel entitled to success. Or do they? What many mistake for entitlement is, in reality, overconfidence. So, how do you handle millennials in the workplace?

Hold On, Dr. Ablow

In his vehement rant, Dr. Ablow cites data from the American Freshman Survey, which indicates millennials are at the back of the class. I call bull. Millennials are shaping up to be the most educated generation ever.

According to the College Board, the number of high school students who scored 3, 4, and 5 on AP exams- enough to earn college credit - was significantly higher for millennials than Gen Xers. The number of students taking and passing these tough tests has more than doubled in the past 10 years. Millennials are outpacing the rest of us on SATs and in math and science. Eighty percent say knowledge is the key driver of success.

These folks are coming into the workforce with a tremendous amount of knowledge. On a purely academic basis, they come with a much greater understanding of business than previous generations. And therein lies the rub.

Theory vs. Reality

The challenge millennials face - and the challenge older generations face when dealing with them - is that so much of what it means to be effective in the workplace cannot be learned from books. This from a certified bibliophile! It can't be learned in classes or online. Rather, it must be learned over time. In other words, there's a whole lot of difference between knowing a theory and living the reality.

Too often, in their abundance of confidence, millennials confuse knowledge with wisdom.

Wisdom, however, only comes through experience, through trials and failures, through triumphs. Through time. Many grey-hairs (or no-hairs) bemoan the lack of patience. They believe millennials feel entitled to success without the bumps and bruises. In reality, millennials often don't truly understand that effectiveness - especially as a leader - is experiential. There's no way to learn it unless you do it. And do it. And do it. For folks raised with instant access to virtually everything, this delay in "gratification" can be interminable. It's also invaluable.

What Do I Have That You Don't?

A member of my Vistage group, with whom I've been working for years, joined when he was 30. A fresh up-and-comer who knew it all. I told him, "You are one of the brightest people with whom I've worked. You may be smarter than me. But I tell you one thing that I have that you do not." He wanted to know what that could possibly be.

Eighteen years. When I started in business, he was in diapers. He didn't know what he didn't know. I knew because I'd done it. I'd experienced it, and this experience has value. Being old(er) doesn't make you wise. Living, learning from successes and failures, and applying key lessons does.

What Do I Have That You Need?

None of this is a matter of generation versus generation. It's a matter of experienced versus inexperienced. The reality is that millennials - like every other generation - need mentoring and development in order to be as effective as possible. It's just that they may have a steeper curve to overcome given their vast theoretical knowledge and their belief that this makes them wise.

But it's a learning curve they'll overcome. Given the opportunity, as a whole, millennials are eager to learn. Far from a generation of "deluded narcissists," many young individuals crave the chance to leverage what they know into positive results for themselves, their organizations, and the world at large.

They're confident enough to believe they can affect change. Good for them. To work towards that goal, they need a leader or mentor who can take the time, and is willing, to diplomatically take them off at the knees (a little). "You're confident, but you don't know... squat. This is what you need to learn."

Just as I can't speak for every millennial, I can't speak for every member of past generations. But what I can say is too often our ability to lead young men and women leaves something to be desired. Are millennials more difficult? Yes. Because they're challenging us. You are a leader; rise to the challenge.


Larry Hart

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