Millennials are hard to understand

If you have someone in your life younger than 30, and you find them confusing, frustrating or just plain weird, I want to assure you that you are not alone. Millennials (individuals born between 1980 and 2000) are a strange bunch.

I should know. I am one.

While millennials are without a doubt the most-written-about generation, I meet very few people who really understand them.

This is a problem, because understanding what drives millennials, really clearly seeing what makes them “tick,” will be what launches organizations, churches, nonprofits and businesses into enormous success.

Of course, conversely, failure to understand them – and not just understand them, but to market to them and to intentionally speak to them – will spell the demise for many similar organizations and companies.

Trumbull County, and the Mahoning Valley, lies behind the curve of understanding millennials because we simply haven’t had to. In our community, we value authority, experience and, most importantly, age in our leaders.

But outside our little corner of the world, millennials are leading multi-million dollar organizations, and in some respects, leading them better than older generations ever could.

So whether you’re a parent, a grandparent, a supervisor, a leader, or simply someone with a twenty-something neighbor, this article is for you. Here are five things you need to know about the millennials in your life.

First, millennials value dialogue over monologue. Ours is a generation that lives their lives online – we always have the ability to comment, to share, to talk back.

We don’t have time for monologues from experts; we want meaningful dialogue with people who listen, respond wisely, and take us seriously.

This leads to the next thing you need to know: Millennials don’t care about authority; they’re looking for influence.

In previous decades, we relied on experts – authorities in their field – to lead. Millennials don’t care who you are or what your title is. Millennials are driven by stories, and the leader who can tell the best story is the one we’ll follow.

Leadership, in the eyes of millennials, is a matter of influence, of winning others over.

Millennials value collaboration and teamwork over an individualistic solo work. We’re the generation raised on group projects, so we value working together over working alone.

In offices led by millennials, you won’t find cubicles; you’ll find wide-open public space because we believe we’re all in this together.

In previous generations, the best kind of leader was a Lone Ranger. Now we’re looking to work together for creative solutions to our problems.

Millennials think in images, not words. This means, if you’re a millennial, you quit reading this six paragraphs ago.

Millennials think in images – but this doesn’t mean they’re stupid. If I made a two-minute video of this article, there is a good chance the viewer would have a better understanding than the reader. This means those of us leading organizations have to up our game in the way we present ourselves.

So those of you who think some Comic Sans font with a bit of clip art on neon-yellow paper is sufficient to communicate with your audience, you’re wrong.

Millennials are connected to each other, to their community, and to their world – but are remarkably apathetic about it. In my next article, I’ll explore the dark side of being a millennial, but for now, always remember that millennials are very connected to their world, but for many of them, ”liking” a cause on Facebook is as hard as they’ll work to solve our community’s problems.

This means we need leaders of influence to help us take the next step.

If you’re a leader reading this – whether of a family, a community organization or even our government – I’d encourage you to evaluate your organization against these millennial traits. Are you passing or failing in communicating well with this generation? If you’re failing, that could spell the end of your organization.

If you’re passing, congratulations. Millennials will be happy to love your organization for years to come.

Tennant is a Warren resident. Email him at