What will change when millennials lead?

A reporter emailed me to set up a call to talk about millennials. There was a time in my life when I would have ignored the email. I’m tired of talking about millennials. But now that I’m home with kids, I say yes to reporters so I have someone interesting to talk to.

This one asked me about how millennials will change leadership. She wanted a quote about David Solomon – quintessential BS-laden story that millennials eat up. He’s the CEO-in-waiting at Goldman Sachs who is also a DJ and walked his kids to school. And then I remembered the other reason I don’t do calls with journalists: I go on tirades.

Walked his kids to school! So devoted!

Really, how do people believe this crap. Here’s what it’s like to be a millionaire and walk your kids to school: someone else wakes them up and gets them ready. And then there’s a car service to pick you up at the school and drive you to work.

In the past you got a gold medal for being CEO. (Or you got a gold medal for being a hot wife who raised kids who became doctors and lawyers.) Now CEOs have to be aspirational for millennials so they have to look like they won a gold medal for work-life balance.

Chelsea Clinton is a great example of how this balance means commitment to nothing. She was at McKinsey for a year. She fundraises for charities. She wrote a children’s book. For Chelsea, her career is a series of aspirational hobbies because she is too rich to just stay home with kids. She can buy the image of work-life balance. She’s a millennial gold-medal winner!

Gen X revolutionized leadership by leading from behind (because Gen X was always behind the Baby Boomers). The Internet disrupted publishing, Grunge disrupted music, food trucks disrupted restaurants. Then, as fast as you can say Barack Obama’s presidency, the leadership phase of Gen X was gone. And, like all things that Gen X reformed, Gen Y picked up the cause and got all the credit.

But I am never one to let millennials take credit they don’t deserve.

Because hello? Have millennials changed anything yet? I don’t think so. The only thing they’ve changed is how far someone will go to salve their endless need for external validation. Millennials invented the destination elopement, monthly subscription boxes of stuff, foods made from other foods. They transformed prom by going in a group. They transformed entry-level jobs by quitting in a group. They transformed startup culture by making it group therapy. They transformed social activism by donating to whoever their friends donate to.

So please, let’s not even talk about millennials as leaders, because the only leading they do is from their Instagram feed.  Millennials are so desperate for external validation that they make work-life balance competitive.

So David Solomon is a DJ like Chelsea Clinton is a book author. David has enough money to look like well-balanced guy even though we all know that you have to basically eat the organs out of your competition in order to get to the top of Goldman Sachs.

The millennials will be the first generation since the post-war generation where every household looks the same (all artisanal and bespoke, of course) and every family looks the same (millennial moms trade ambition for kids, millennial dads want to be home for dinner). Everyone wants to own less and share more. And leadership takes place on social media, where everyone looks toward the one with the most likes. Because more than anything millennials like to be liked.

Ten years ago I launched Brazen Careerist, which is now Brazen Technologies, a company name that makes me feel like I’m the parent of a child who just announced their new name is Sam and their preferred pronoun is they.

When I launched the company I was in my 40s. I never saw my kids. My husband demanded a divorce. And I was surrounded by twentysomethings telling me I wasn’t using email right, wasn’t using Facebook right, wasn’t leading right. I remember thinking: I can’t wait til they are in their 30s.

Now the time has come. Ryan Paugh has two kids and is running his own startup, The Community Company.

He sees his kids about as much as I did back then, and when his wife, Caitlin, is pissed about their marriage, she calls me. (I scream at her and tell her divorce is not an option.) I hope there is someone telling him he’s not using Snapchat the right way, but there will not be someone telling him he’s leading the wrong way. Because he’s the quintessential millennial leader.

He and Caitlin are work-life geniuses. Ryan comes home for dinner. There is no nanny. And Caitlin freeze dries food and makes medicine from herbs. Caitlin knew she couldn’t work full-time and have kids, so she does small stuff on the side, and when people ask “what do you do,” she gets to talk about her interesting work AND her stay-at-home parenting because she’s a millennial winner.

And Ryan just published at book. Of course. Because the business card is to work as the book is to work-life balance. It’s called Super Connector. It tells people to lead by way of a group. Seriously. Blows my mind.

I want to tell him it’s a totally stupid book and people need a real leader. What would animals do without a leader? Eat each other. What would cave men do without a leader? Starve without meat. And what would Steve Jobs have accomplished if he had been likable? Nothing, probably.

But Ryan is likable, and so of this moment. You can tell he’s so this moment is that everyone like me who is too old to be of this moment will not want to read his book. Which is exactly why we should. Because millennials are taking over the workplace, so we should get on board.

43 replies
  1. LisaP
    LisaP says:

    This post was hilarious and probably true of a lot of Millenials. I’m supposedly a Millenial (34) but I really don’t give a crap if I’m liked or not, that’s probably why I’ve never had many friends my own age.

  2. D N P
    D N P says:

    I don’t particularly care for this one. I usually enjoy your stuff but it just kind of seems like it is hating on others. I don’t really like things that sound so biased and I thought it a bit odd coming from someone unconventional.

    • Christopher Campbell
      Christopher Campbell says:

      I agree. This guy is ripping on a group of people. You can’t make educated claims on groups of people just because of their birth year

  3. carol of kensington
    carol of kensington says:

    Penelope, I know I’ve bought an hour of your time at a bargain rate and still not made the appointment because an hour won’t be enough! I agree with you so much that it will be a mutual “I know, I know” but it will be helpful as I’ve rented a film studio for three years and I’m going to be a youtuber and just that thought has stopped me being able to sleep at night, gut wrenched and excited. Thank you for this, your mind is so amazing and so is your writing. Speak to you soon!

  4. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    What gets me is how those Goldman execs cited spending time with kids as how they unwind. Holy crap, you must not be doing any actual parenting, then.

    • Anna
      Anna says:

      Yeah, when I read those statements in the article, I thought it was the stupidest thing EVER. The truth is that any free time HAS to be with kids and family because otherwise, there would be zero and there would be no kids and family, so it is pretty much obligatory like a task list. Duh. Sorry… I’m not usually this blunt.

  5. Gayle
    Gayle says:

    Sorry it rings as as much sour grapes and hooey to me. Millennials will change leadership and a whole bunch of other things because every generation does. They get to become the ones in charge. As a black baby boomer who went into Corporate America , it took awhile but it became apparent to me that most CEOs and many run-of-the-mill business types were hiding behind gussied-up stories of what it takes to make it (or like the Wizard of Oz) and have been for eons. So I for one don’t think Ryan Paugh and Goldman Sachs executives are any different than they always have been.

  6. Christopher Campbell
    Christopher Campbell says:

    I have some problems with this…

    I was born in 93 so yes I am one of them. I don’t have social media, I don’t need external validation to make my self feel good. I can put up with entry level jobs. I understand you are talking about the generation as a whole, but I honestly think there are a lot of people my age who are more like me than what you are describing. It kind of bothers me when people talk so poorly about my generation because I know a lot of kids who are going to be great leaders.

    Yes there are some people in my generation who are fixated on social media and who are self obsorbed.

    Guest what… There is people like that in every generation, it’s just we have the means to be that way more readily than other generations.

    I believe this article is extremely negative and opinionated. There are no facts here at all only negative beliefs about people my age…

  7. Kitty
    Kitty says:

    So what role will Gen X have now? To be overwhelmed by the millenials as we were until very recently by the boomers? Is there a good slot open for their contribution? Great article – explains so much!

      • Anna
        Anna says:

        Sorting this through… I am always relieved when we get to move past Generation X because I see them as unachieving slackers (maybe that is a misperception I have… not sure, but that is my impression). I thought Generation Y would be kind of refreshing because when people said they are not about being loners but are group-oriented, I possibly wrongly assumed that meant they were returning to the pre-Generation X responsibility mode. But maybe it is all about the group for self-affirmation and the group for chilling out and not working as hard. I was born in 1977, so I’m in the in-between years of the once-called “hinge” generation. I don’t have lot of respect for (my impression at least) of Generation X (i.e. flannel shirts, grunge, etc.) and Generation Y’s disdain (generally speaking) for entry-level work is confusing to me. How can you do a job if you don’t know the company from the inside out? Aren’t they just a pawn then or being kind of entitled? Maybe I’m out of step with other hinge-ers, I wonder, because my parents were about 30 when they got married and had me, usually about ten years older than my friends (hippy) parents were than they were. My parents were not hippies but teenagers right before the hippies made a bang, especially my dad, who was born in 1945 and a few older than my mom. And my mom was a California be-bopper, so didn’t have an attraction to hippy life, even she was slightly closer in age to the movement.

        • Anna
          Anna says:

          Btw, I’m not a group-oriented person, am much more of a go-it-alone type, but I do have a developed Fe and function with an awareness of larger culture, not in rebellion against social norms like holidays and family parties and church, etc.

  8. Ted
    Ted says:

    You don’t understand. Millennials work a hell of a lot harder because they actually work instead of keep a messy desk and talk all day long. While you poke fun at them they are using their smartphones to keep up on email, and use live chat apps to save time. They may look like they are playing games to old people, but really they are more productive than you can imagine. When millennials lead they will use technology to cut out the crap and eventually make the 40 hour work week obselete because they get more done and faster in less time than ever.

    Just because they work less hours and have been through a recession before being able to build up much credit or savings, and have had to work more jobs just to get by that work life balance means they take their legally required breaks because they work 2-4 jobs and 60-80 hours a week doesn’t mean they are lazy, you hypocritical morons. And the fact that you had time to write such a post means you have more free time on your hands than most millennials. Stop hating on younger people.

    • MK
      MK says:

      BTW, it’s *fewer* hours, not *less*. “Fewer” is used with things that can be counted: fewer hours, fewer words, fewer posts, fewer hateful words. “Less” is used with things that cannot be counted: less water, less oxygen, less hate.

      I know it’s considered rude to correct grammar, but I don’t understand why it’s any less rude to tell people their thoughts are wrong than to tell them their grammar is wrong.

      • Anna
        Anna says:

        :) I was thinking the same thing about “fewer”. It’s just a pet peeve of mine so found the correction refreshing. Thanks. Not trying to be snarky or rude here… just glad someone caught it and said something!

        Also, another person who happened to offer a negative critique of the post wrote “obsorbed”… but it was probably just a typo.

  9. Irina
    Irina says:

    This is a very true post and I’m a millenial. The level of narcissism in my generation is off the charts.

  10. Jen
    Jen says:

    Hmm as a millennial (I’m 27) I thoroughly enjoyed this article, and agree with what you wrote. Here’s my thoughts

    1. Most people in my generation are self absorbed, self entitled and can’t stand the idea of not being liked. Social media is the tool used to seek external validation. I myself don’t have social media (apart from LinkedIn) Despite the fact I’m a freelance marketing consultant and part time Marketing Communications Manager – As I hate the fact that most people my age use it to try and gain popularity and make themselves feel good. I personally don’t care if people like me or not, which I think is the result of being an INTJ & borderline aspergers.

    2. I also agree that most people my age don’t really get the whole work ethic thing – And want to do the whole work from home be a blogger, freelancer, vlogger, entrepreneur etc. That used to be me till I tried being a marketing consultant full time and realised the ‘Hustle Isn’t as glamourous as fellow millienials make it out to be, and I need to suck it up and do some form of 9-5 so I can actually earn some money/make a profit.

    3) My dad is 58 and works 2x jobs – Which he has done for most of his life. Despite not really needing to as from his main job alone he makes £45,000 p/a. However as that job requires him to work at night – Hes a social work manager on a nightime energency duty team- He insists on working during the day (Doing agency/temp social worker jobs) Because, and I quote “He gets bored during the day” Would most millienials work 2x jobs? I don’t think so. Would most millienials want to be working above the age of 50? Again I don’t think so….

    • Anna
      Anna says:

      So, this is very interesting to me. What is a freelance marketing consultant and part time Marketing Communications Manager? I’ve wondered about what these kinds of things are for a long time. How did you learn about these kinds of jobs? Were you a business major in college? Thanks.

  11. Darice Michele
    Darice Michele says:

    Basically everything that every generation worked for before this one is being ruined by this generation. If your one of them cool but just know you all are not what you think you are and need a reality check that you can work smarter not harder just don’t be so dumb with what you do.

  12. Amy Harding
    Amy Harding says:

    Your blog gives me life. Thank you a million times for speaking truth that no one wants to say (or hear).

  13. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Penelope, this article is unclear on what you’re really pissed at millennials about. The writing makes it seem like you’re annoyed about their supposed work-life balance (and subsequent lack of leadership, and subsequent lack of innovation).

    But somehow I doubt there’s really a lack of leadership going on: for example, xNTJs are gonna do their xNTJ thing regardless of what generation they’re of (unless you think xNTJs are going extinct or getting career-castrated or something, which would be a fun post if thats true). Ryan Paugh isn’t actually Not Leading his company or his wife wouldn’t be calling you pissed about their marriage.

    I think you’re mad about what you’ve always been mad about (e.g. Facebook’s Sandberg), which is that the appearance of “work-life balance” in successful leadership is a lie.

    • May
      May says:

      hahaha she is goingt o be “you’re right! i am actually mad that they pretend they have worklife balance! and pretend to lead in a different way, when it’s all the same old ways!!! but calling it something new and strange and i hates it!! ADMIT YOU’RE LYING, YOU MILLENIALS!!!”

      just a big autisms over lies

      • May
        May says:

        me: you mean good. i am very good. i hope every infj just “wow”
        infj: yes!!!!

  14. harris497
    harris497 says:

    Hey Penny,

    Why don’t you tell us how you really feel:)?
    No body appreciates grandma’s advice until they are too mature to need it. I like your general statements about millenials, but like all generalizations, they are not always true.


    • Anna
      Anna says:

      I think the appreciation or non-appreciation for generalization has to be a Myers-Briggs type thing. S-types and J-types probably don’t “get” generalizations. Just a hunch.

  15. MMJ
    MMJ says:

    I always said that I wanted to be a professor, so a few years ago I received the opportunity to teach graduate/professional level classes in my field. And found (because I’m almost 50, so I haven’t been in college/professional school in a while) out how much spoon feeding I was expected to do, how much constant quizzing and recapping and feedback giving (in a technical graduate field!), and that some classes have moved to online only, because students want that (and too much time with hard copy books is no fun and they won’t do it, or something). Nope. Taught twice, I’m done. I’d rather be wrestling with 50-60 year old executives at the office for the rest of my life than dealing with that again.

    I have no idea how the students who have been given online, on-demand learning, no textbooks, and reminded of what they’d been taught last at the beginning of every new lesson and offered a mini-quiz are going to handle real business jobs. That is NOT how the workplace is structured at this time.

  16. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    I have a hard time identifying with all the articles about millennials or Gen X because I was born in that generation between the two. I was born in 1979, so I was too young to do a lot of the stuff the Gen Xer’s were doing, then past the age for a lot of the “young” stuff the millennials were doing. That being said, I don’t complain about the generations behind me because that’s one of those things that I consider and “old” thing to do and it’s an argument as old as time itself. Also, I actually like some of the changes they are bringing to the workplace. There’s not really a choice either, since they will soon be the big chunk of employees.

  17. Dazed and confused
    Dazed and confused says:

    My surprise at the millennials I know is that they did not start working at full-time or even part-time jobs until their mid to late 20s because they were in school continuously. Of course, the ones I know have well to do parents to make that a reality. But, so did I and I didn’t receive a dime from my parents after the age of 21 when I started a full time job. Even before that at 18 I had a part time jobs while going to college. I am happy I had those work experiences even if the jobs were sometimes difficult and or boring. But, paying someones rent and data plan until they are 28 seems like infantilizing to me. BTW, I don’t have a problem if they are working as a group because team work is how stuff gets done. Being too much of an individual is a liability unless you are extremely lucky.

  18. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    My only problem is that this is about sort-of college millennials. What about the white-working-class-dying-of-despair millennials? Or the little-darlings-of-the-ruling-class minority millennials weaned on a pickle? Or the earnest immigrants trying to get on the ladder to prosperity? Or the Asian Tiger Moms?

    I think there is a lot going on outside the official media narrative. And in due course we will find out all about it.

  19. Laura Friis
    Laura Friis says:

    You can see it as an eternal need for validation or you could see it as a commitment to co-operation. Not even going to read the rest of the comments because this is just going to turn into load of bashing and I’m so sick of the stupid generalisations.

  20. missy
    missy says:

    thanks for the frankness re: Chelsea Clinton. She’s been “riding on the coattails” of the Clinton name for far far too long.

  21. Old Fogie
    Old Fogie says:

    One question: Have you ever gone on a trip or to a concert and NOT posted about it on social media? If the answer is, “No”, ask your self why that is. Is it possible for you to travel or catch up with a friend or meet a famous person or listen to a speech without highlighting for others just how relevant you are. Enjoy life for your own sake. Appreciate your child’s antics just for how they make you feel. Rediscover the magic of he inside joke.

  22. layla
    layla says:

    My husband and I have conversations with and about millennials frequently. He is the vp for enrollment and marketing at a small, private university.
    I’d like input about these questions –
    I was raised that you don’t order the most expensive food on the restaurant menu, unless it’s your birthday treat, etc. – and certainly not on the company’s dime. Time and again, we see younger employees ordering from the dinner menu at lunch, and exclaiming their glee that they’re getting 2 meals (lunch & leftovers) for FREE!
    Here’s my first question: When Millennials run the company(ies), and we “older” folks are hired by them (maybe) will they respect that we have scruples and know how to be frugal, and don’t try to eat twice on the employer’s money?
    2nd question, related to the first – in regards to the “way we were taught”, (I’m 43) will Millennials respect or be offended by our “scruples” – 1. early is on time 2. don’t take more than you need 3. don’t make the boss change a meeting, dinner, etc. because you decided you’d rather go out to a movie than keep the date that’s been on the office calendar for 6 months.

  23. Ben Bowen
    Ben Bowen says:

    One angle I find interesting with the new generation is how phone etiquette has replaced normal manners (0f course, it’s not only millennials who fail in this way but they were the ones who came of age through their teen years and early adulthood with smartphones). For example, imagine if you interrupted a conversation to say you were going to daydream about your favourite sport? … Yikes! But it seems okay to do essentially that to check your iPhone. Not good – for work or life!

Comments are closed.