Coaching a millennial mentality


Anyone in a managerial role in today’s business climate knows the challenges related to and benefits of hiring millennials.

The Pew Research Center defines millennials as the first generation to come of age in the new millennium, those generally born after 1980, now in their 20’s and 30’s.

Forbes recognized the influence of this generation as early as 2015, when the publication predicted that millennials would become the largest and most influential generation in the workplace.

Seminars, workshops, even entire courses of study have been developed to help employers relate to and work successfully with this highly-educated, highly-opinionated, and widely-connected population.

Characteristics of millennials include a desire to contribute to their communities, a need for recognition, and an aversion to direct supervision. They want to collaborate with their bosses rather than take direction; they prefer to be “coached” instead of directed. This media-savvy generation may seem self-absorbed, but they really just want to make a difference in the world, and be appreciated and celebrated in the process.

Imagine the challenges of coaching this unique demographic.

When Dan Rooney’s son spoke to a local business audience recently, the corporate consultant who grew up within the Steelers organization came to the defense of head coach Mike Tomlin, saying that coaching today is not what it was under the likes of Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher.

Jim Rooney examines corporate culture in his day job, serving as president of his own company, FirstLink. He recognizes the impact that millennials are having on the work place, including the NFL gridiron.

Tomlin, Rooney observed, is faced with the task of motivating and inspiring some of the NFL’s biggest stars, who happen to be millennials, in a way makes them perform at their best, work together, and help their team perform at the ultimate level.

Rooney argues that when it comes to speaking the language of millennials, there’s no one in football better than Mike Tomlin.

Consider the challenges of the Tomlin era: today’s NFL players/millennials are their own communication departments, i.e. social media superstars; many are even entrepreneurs. They have more money than they know what to do with, and more attention than they can sometimes handle. With one tweet, one post, one photo, they can change the narrative of a moment, a game, a season. They can stir the pot, or create a debilitating distraction.

Rooney credits Tomlin with skillfully handling this generation, whose mistakes he classifies on a continuum ranging knucklehead to truly destructive, recognizing that Tomlin puts the Steelers in a position to challenge for a championship season after season, in spite of all of these challenges.

Business leaders could take a lesson from the Steelers coach to make their companies millennial-friendly, top contenders.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Her column appears on Tuesdays.