Four Considerations in Building Trust with Millennials

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” ~ Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

MillennialsJudy Garland’s line from The Wizard Oz could appropriately capture the feeling of many leaders when it comes to managing Millennials in the workplace – it’s a whole new world! Millennials, or Gen Y (born 1982-1995), are rapidly becoming a greater share of the workforce and some studies have estimated that by 2025 they will comprise 75% of the working population. Like each generation before them, they bring a unique blend of attitudes, traits, and characteristics that define how they “show up” at work. Building trust with this generation and leveraging their strengths in the workplace is a pressing priority for today’s generation of leaders.

Last week I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion on the topic of Trust in Millennial Leaders, on the Trust Across America radio show, hosted by my friend Jon Mertz, a leadership writer and marketing executive. Jon assembled representatives from Gen Y who are in the early stages of their careers along with a couple of “old guys” (me included!) further along in their career.

The insightful discussion produced a number of valuable learning moments, four of which stood out to me as particularly important for leaders to grasp in order to build trust with Millennials.

1. Millennials are a trusting, optimistic generation – Whenever you speak about generational demographics, there is the danger of over-generalizing and stereotyping individuals. With that said, by and large the Millennial generation has a higher propensity to trust others and they value authentic relationships. A study by Deloitte showed that 87% of the Millennials they surveyed reported that they “completely,” “mostly,” or “moderately” trust their boss, with nearly 1 in 3 falling in the “completely” category. This opens the door for leaders to extend trust to the Millennials on their team with the expectation that trust will be reciprocated. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship and it’s the starting point for leaders interested in maximizing the talents of the younger generation.

2. Tech savviness of Millennials opens new doors – Gen Y is the first workforce generation to grow up completely in the world of modern computers and it fundamentally drives the way they approach work. Millennials take to technology like a fish takes to water and their use of technology is forcing organizations to reevaluate their business practices. The ubiquitous use of social media by Millennials is one prominent example. For many younger workers there is a blending of work and social community interaction through Facebook, Twitter, or other platforms. Today’s leaders need to consider ways to build trust with Millennials through the use of technology rather than viewing these new methods with fear or suspicion.

3. Millennials are quick learners – In large part due to their upbringing in the computer age, Millennials are conditioned to consume, absorb, and apply large amounts of information. (No experience with creating a business plan? Google it and have nearly 3 million options to meet your need!) Because of their fast-paced nature to learn on the fly, many in this generation have gotten the bad rap of not wanting to “pay their dues” or are “entitled” (Generation Me!) to quick promotions and pay raises. Leaders interested in building trust would be wise to avoid labeling Millennials with these stereotypes and treat them on an individual basis. As Jon Mertz pointed out, many Gen Y’ers understand that growth in organizations today is much more horizontally focused than vertically up the traditional corporate ladder.

4. Millennials know the power of community – A common trait of this generation is their focus on social causes and the strength that comes from like-minded individuals banding together to achieve a common goal. Whether it’s assisting in disaster relief, combating slave trafficking, or providing clean water to villagers in Africa, Millennials have emerged as leaders in addressing social issues. What does that mean for organizational leaders? Millennials are naturals at teamwork! Who wouldn’t want that skill in their company? Millennials are eager and ready to accept new responsibilities and have a natural inclination to partner with others to achieve ambitious goals. Rather than forcing Millennials to “wait their turn,” leaders can build trust by looking for appropriate projects and growth opportunities where they can showcase their talents.

I encourage you to listen to the recording of the radio show. I think you’ll come away from the discussion with a greater appreciation for the skills and talents that Millennials bring to the workforce and a greater hope for a bright future with this new generation of leaders.

Randy Conley is the Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies and his LeaderChat posts appear the last Thursday of every month. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit Randy at his Leading with Trust blog or follow him on Twitter @RandyConley.

16 thoughts on “Four Considerations in Building Trust with Millennials

  1. Hey Randy – a great post – Thanks. I am especially intrigued by point 2 (Tech savviness) and point 4 (Knowing the power of community) and the impact they will have on organizational design and the role of the managers / leaders they report. It truly is an interesting time in the world of work! Thanks again!

    • Thanks for your comments Ken. It’s going to be interesting to see how our workplaces evolve over the coming years as Millennials move into more senior leadership positions and technology continues to influence our work.

      Take care,


  2. Reblogged this on Ken's ken and commented:
    Dorothy’s words are such a great lead in to this piece from Randy Conley I couldn’t resist reposting it. I was especially taken by point 2 (Tech savviness of Millennials opening new doors) and point 4 (Knowing the Power of Community) and could not agree more with the notion put forward that leaders need to consider many different ways to build trust through the use of technology rather than viewing the new found tools with suspicion and fear.

    What think you?

    Cheers, Ken

  3. Thanks for the post. I run a summer camp, so 99% of my summer staff are Millennials. Each point you have made is spot on. I think the reason many organizations struggle with leading Millennials is related to ratios. Because of the social aspect of Millennials combined with be quick movers with instant access to information…they need more focused coaching. We have had to change the number of direct reports a leader has. Each person on our leadership staff would supervise around 10 team members. We’ve had to adjust this to 6. This change has had a major positive impact on our organization.

    • Hi Eric. Reducing the number of direct reports is an excellent strategy! It makes perfect sense given the objectives you’re trying to achieve.

      Thanks for adding your valuable thoughts to the discussion.

      Take care,


  4. Randy, Thanks so much for being a part of this panel. I really enjoyed the interaction and insights. You captured some great key points from the conversations. The Millennial Generation offers so much in their ability to leverage existing leadership principles and really take them to a new level of meaning and purpose in work and community. Great post! Jon

  5. Pingback: Weekly Wrap-Up for Associations

  6. Pingback: How do #Millennials Define #Happiness? | Breathe and Smile « Reason & Existenz

  7. Randy- I enjoyed reading a positive outlook on my generation. I believe you are right on for the most part. I was suprised to see so many trust their boss “completely” and I wonder how honest the survey takers were there. One thing I noticed is the Gen Y need for lots of positive feedback and encouragement for a job well done. Older folks seemed to have grown up in a world where their parents were “straight talkers” and more strict so sometimes I think older leaders don’t recognize the importance of telling a younger person today that they are doing well. I am victim of having this need some I am sure. I do believe that Gen Y, with strong encouragement and feedback, has the confidence to take on any task and take chances on new, creative ideas, mainly through the use of technology.

    • Hi Duncan.

      I appreciate your thoughtful comments regarding the need for positive feedback for Gen Yers. My perception is Baby Boomers grew up in an environment where doing a good job was expected and no feedback meant you were doing a good job. You only heard from the boss when you messed up! I think my generation (Gen X) was a transition between hearing no feedback to what is now the tendency for much more positive feedback for Gen Yers.

      Take care,


  8. Hi Randy,
    Excellent article. We are developing a leadership course at Charles Schwab, Inc., and would like to provide a link to this post from our intranet site. Please let me know if we may have your permission to do so.
    Thank you,
    Carol Wade

Leave a Reply