Help Millennials Get Sales and Leadership Traction

This is an interview supporting the book launch of Millennials Matter.

Q: Thanks for joining us today, Danita. Give us a quick overview what you’re seeing and hearing about the importance of millennial salespeople in our companies.

Danita: As we all know, seasoned sales professionals are retiring at a record pace. Many of us are complaining about this generation, and have resigned ourselves to the fact that many Millennials just aren’t ready to fill the gap by moving into sales and leadership roles.

But, the business leaders I respect didn’t build successful businesses by complaining. No, they’re successful because they are disciplined, action-oriented leaders who tackle problems head on. So, here’s my question to all of us, “Shouldn’t we stop complaining and start mentoring, coaching, and, well, leading the next generation of sales professionals and leaders?

Q: What inspired you to write Millennials Matter?

Danita: There were a series of seemingly disconnected events that culminated in a direction-shifting conversation with my 23 year-old son, Westin.

Four years ago, Westin attended the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. After the Summit, we connected via phone for a quick debrief. He was all enthusiastic about this idea, this message and this person. Then, right in the middle of his exuberant conversation, he stopped. It was as if his eyes locked with mine over the airways. His voice shifted – it had intensity, gravitas, “Mom, I have a message for you.” My world stood still. I knew these next words were important.

With focused clarity, he said, “Mom, you must prioritize passing your leadership wisdom and insight onto the next generation.”

As his words resonated deep to the core of my being, I realized that this message wasn’t only a call from my son to me, but from this generation to all of us. It’s an invitation for all of us who are experienced leaders to step up to the plate and to mentor this generation.

Q: On your Millennial Survey, 45% of the responses from CEOs, presidents and leaders dealt with concerns with character in Millennials. Tell us about your findings and recommendations.

Danita: I often get push-back when I mention that character is a cornerstone of Millennials Matter. Some say “Character, isn’t that a given?” Others say “Character, isn’t that what parents deal with in the home?”

Yet 45% of the business leaders site character concerns. Some believe millennial salespeople and leaders lack determination and resilience. Others say they are not accountable, think they know everything, and have a disregard for the value of hard work.

At the root, these are often issues of virtue, i.e. determination, accountability; trust; and optimism. But, since virtue is an outdated word, I talk about a courageous character core that flows through us and impacts everything that we touch. Our character impacts every decision, every role, and every relationship. I love what Phyllis Henry, President and CEO of Lead like Jesus, says, “The failures that have happened in business, most often don’t come from something wrong in the business. It comes from a character flaw or failure in a leader.”

As leaders, it’s important to be in a trusting relationship with our millennial salespeople and leaders so that we can help them develop a character that will withstand the test of real-life decision making.

Q: Another cornerstone in Millennials Matter is “confidence.” In the Millennial Survey, 34% of leaders expressed concern with confidence. Yet, many say that this is the most confident generation ever. What are you hearing about Millennial salespeople and leaders?

Danita: Are they really as confident as they appear? On one hand, this generation seems to be hyper confident, having a know-it-all attitude. Yet business leaders are noting that the confidence seems to be like a thin veneer that can be easily shaken. It lacks a deep foundation.

The Harvard Business Review recently published an article entitled, “The internet makes you think you are smarter than you are.” So there is an internet confidence. Then, there’s a deep, experiential confidence that’s sustainable and aptly handles the twists and turns of real-life leadership. The twists and turns that Google and YouTube didn’t predict.

Q: How can business leaders work with their millennial salespeople leaders and build this “real” confidence?

Danita: First, we can help them identify their distinct strengths, talents and gifts. Then we can brainstorm with them on how to leverage these assets when they hit the inevitable obstacles and roadblocks in life. We can walk beside them, giving them feedback and encouragement as they pursue their path, passion and purpose. So, it’s about developing deep sustainable confidence, not just the internet confidence.

Q: This generation has been raised in a team environment. It seems like collaboration should be natural to them. But, that’s not what business leaders are reporting, is it?

Danita: You’re correct. Some say that collaboration is a forte of this generation. They’ve been working in teams since first grade, and they have technology to be able to collaborate around the globe.

On the sales team, sales leaders have concerns with millennial leaders in stressful face-to-face interactions, whether it’s difficult conversations, conflict resolution or generational differences on the team. Texting is second nature for Millennials. We will need to come alongside them to build empathy and the emotional IQ needed to be successful in a wide array for sales, sales management and sales leadership roles.

Q: So, how can we work with them to strengthen their collaboration abilities?

Danita: We can work with our next-gen sales professionals to help them identify their relationship wiring. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What are their gifts, talents, and behavioural preferences that they bring to the team? Build their empathy to see the gifts, talents, strengths that others also bring to the team. Discuss how the interaction of these various perspectives helps nurture synergy and creativity, providing an even better outcome than expected.

Q: What are some practical best practices for coaching and mentoring Millennial sales professionals and leaders?

Danita: Here are a couple of practical ideas.

First, Give Regular Feedback and Encouragement. 80% of Millennials want on-the-spot recognition. The long sit-down annual review is passé. The on-the-spot recognition, given freely, openly, and honestly provides them with incredible insights to help them grow their skills and their career, plus it helps them to better understand the job that you want them to do. So give regular feedback and encouragement.

Next, Recognize Their Individuality. Unlike any other generation before them, Millennials have been taught that they are individuals and that their uniqueness should be celebrated.

Finally, Spot their Talents and Strengths. Help them to leverage those talents and strengths, in a way that moves their career forward. In spite of their seemingly know-it-all attitude, they are hungry to learn from people they trust and respect. In a culture of trust and respect, your feedback and encouragement will be well received, and will help nurture and build them as a Next Gen.

DANITA BYE, M.A., a Forbes contributor, is a leadership and sales development expert. Her successes range from sales leader at Xerox Corporation to private equity ownership roles, giving her the coaching and mentoring experience required to build leaders of all ages. With a masters of arts in transformational leadership, she is founder of Sales Growth Specialists and has served on the boards of private Christian universities. She is a mother of three Millennials and passionate about energizing and equipping business leaders who see investing in their millennial leaders as a key to business growth and succession strategy, integral to their leadership legacy. She makes her home on a ranch in North Dakota.