Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Workplace

Simon Sinek

Knowing my passion for public speaking my son pointed me in the direction of a Simon Sinek YouTube video.

As Simon Sinek is one of my favourite speakers it was something I looked forward to watching. Fifteen minutes in, I felt a litttle troubled by much of his thinking.

Why?

He cites four reasons why he believes so many millennials are unhappy at work:

Parenting

Technology

Impatience

Environment

1. Simon Sinek on Parenting

He suggests that too many millennials grew up through failed parenting strategies: “They were told that they were special all the time, they were told that they can have anything they want in life”. He talks about how when they start work they realise they aren’t special at all. Their mothers can’t get them a promotion and so their self-image is “shattered”.

My first thought was, ‘Oh no, what have I done’.

My son is a millennial and his whole life his mother and I have told him just how special he is.

Have I been a bad parent?

If I have then it certainly wasn’t a learned strategy. I don’t ever recall my parents telling me or my siblings how special we were.

Does that mean I put my son on a pedestal to make a point and give him what I never had?

If I did it certainly wasn’t a conscious decision. I told him he was special just about every day because I believed it and still do.  Even though he is all grown up I will never stop believing it.

I remember when he was five years old I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He replied saying, ‘A power ranger’. I looked him straight in the eye and told him that if that’s what he wanted to be, I liked it. I  shared my belief that the world could always do with another Power Ranger. Why couldn’t it be my son?.

Perhaps that was a little over zealous but my intention was pure. Why couldn’t he be a Power Ranger?

As a public speaking coach I  also do some voluntary work in schools. I lead short, interactive personal impact workshops with young people. These are young people who are severely struggling at school. I don’t teach them presentation skills; we talk about personal impact.

Each time I leave a workshop I pray that others will tell them just how special they are too. I hope that someone else will also tell them how they can be, do or have, just about anything they want. I often feel like such a lone voice.

Despite their very challenging environent and circumstances things can change for them.They need help challenging their limiting beliefs, changing perceptions and tapping into their imaginations. It would also help if they were reminded from time to time of how special they are.

It’s my belief that we are all special, very special. Most of us have no idea just how special we are. Does that mean we are better than everyone else?

No

Does it mean that we deserve more than everyone else?

No 

Does it mean that there has never before been someone the same as us and never will be again?

Absolutely 

Does it mean that whoever we are and whatever we do, we each have the capacity to make a difference in our own small way?

Absolutely 

Does it mean that we are the most incredible species that has ever walked this earth?

Absolutely 

If that alone doesn’t make us special then what on earth does?

Please never stop telling your child how special they truly are, however old they get.

2. Simon Sinek on Technology 

“Engagement with social media and our cell phones releases a chemical called dopamine, that’s why when you get a text it feels good right, so you know we’ve all had a weird feeling a little bit down and feeling a bit lonely and so you send out 10 texts to 10 friends and hi, hi, hi, hi, because it feels good when you get a response.” 

Simon Sinek then goes on to share the comparative addictive nature of social media to smoking, drinking and gambling.

As a young man I felt the tight grip of smoking, drinking and gambling.  Today, as a middle aged I feel the grasp of social media.

Is it an issue for millennials alone?

If it’s an issue for all of us, is it arguably a ‘safer’ addiction than smoking, drinking or gambling? I don’t believe that any addiction contributes to a healthy and productive way of living; even social media.

I am extremely grateful that my son has grown to become far fonder of social media than smoking, drinking or gambling. Thankfully, as a millennial, he doesn’t appear addicted to social media.

My father was born in the late 1920’s and he left us far earlier than he should have due to cigarettes and alcohol. Who knows what would might have happened had he had Facebook.

I believe that human beings have been chasing the dopamine rush since the beginning of time.

“Friendships are superficial they will admit to their friends that they don’t count on their friends, they don’t rely on their friends. They have fun with their friends but they also know that their friends will cancel on them if something better comes along. Deep meaningful relationships not there because they never practice the skill”

As I’ve already noted, I’m not a millennial by any stretch of the imagination. The other day I was travelling home on the train. Feeling a little bored I turned to my phone to see who I could ‘chat’ with on Facebook.

I realised that there were over a dozen ‘friends’ who were available to ‘chat’ within that moment.  I also reaslised that  I didn’t want to ‘chat’ with any of them.

Were these really friends?

Is this an issue isolated to millennials?

3. Simon Sinek on Impatience

Simon Sinek refers to the challenge of ‘instant gratification’. He suggests a perception that millennials can have whatever they want whenever they want it.

Young people have been impatient since the beginning of time.

I remember how I couldn’t wait to:

Have my first girlfriend.

Pass my driving test.

Own a car.

Start by first job.

Own my own home.

From the age of 13 it was relentless.  It still is to this very day, although thankfully, age does have a habit of calming us down.

In my view, the fact that young people today may be even more impatient is a good thing rather than bad. They will be the drivers of change in a world of change. When most people think of change they think of the past but change surrounds us in every moment,

I happen to believe there is far too much patience in the workplace right now.

When I started work many years ago I remember feeling extremely impatient and disgruntled. As a young man, things were happening around me that just shouldn’t have been happening. The complete opposite was also true. There was so much acceptance and complacency for so much in the world that just didn’t feel right.

I did something rather maverick at the time. Within a few months of starting work I wrote a report and sent it directly to the executive team. The report highlighted everything I saw as the ‘new boy’ that I believed didn’t make sense. I listed everything that I believed was:

Holding the business back.

Making us inefficient or costing us money.

Adversely affecting our customers.

Lowering the teams morale.

As I  bypassed my manager she wasn’t best pleased but I made a big difference to the company and luckily the launch of my career.

Was it impatient of me to want to change things that were obviously not working 37 years ago?

Definitely 

Did the culture 37 years ago encourage and accept my mind set and behaviour.

Not easily

Was it worth the risk?

Absolutely 

Please don’t ask or expect our young people to be patient. The world is changing now and we need to change with it. Ignoring what they see is not helpful.

The problem

Here is where Simon Sinek really raised alarm bells in my mind.

“Worst case scenario is we’re seeing an increase in suicide rates.

The best-case scenario is you have an entire population growing up and going through life and just never really in finding joy, they’ll never really find deep, deep fulfilment in work or in life.”

It pains me that we could send out such a message of despair to our young people. Despite the challenges they face, there has never been a better time to be alive.

It’s not parenting, technology or impatience that’s the issue. These are all realities of life and with the possible exception of technology none of them are new.

If you ever have the courage to visit your local cemetery for a few minutes one Sunday spend a few minutes walking around reading the countless gravestones.

As you do so don’t think of the death of all of those bodies. Think of the death of so many dreams. A  graveyard full of ‘yes but’s’, ‘if only’s’ and ‘what if”s’.

It’s the universal challenge of life to find meaning, purpose and value.

The question remains: would you rather be alive today or 100 years ago?

We’ve been searching for meaning for tens of thousands of years. It seems to me that it’s a blessing that we have finally created a generation that won’t settle for anything less.

4. Simon Sinek on Environment 

“We’re taking this amazing group of young fantastic kids who would have just been dealt a bad hand it’s no fault of their own and we put them in corporate environments that care more about the numbers and they do about the kids. They care more about the short-term gains than the long term life of this young human being we care more about the year than the lifetime right and so we are putting them in corporate environments that aren’t helping them build their confidence that aren’t helping them learn the skills of cooperation.”

He’s right.

Although, it’s not a new problem.

It is just getting rapidly worse and it’s fuelled by greed.

Today’s leadership challenge is the same as it’s always been. Sadly it’s greatly exacerbated by the world we have each created.

Far too many l leaders are leading the way their bosses led before them . This doesn’t always equip them for the changing world we live in.

It’s not the corporations that are the problem, it’s all of us. We have continued to create a world that demands quality, speed, innovation and excellence at the lowest possible cost. We want it all, we want it now and with little regard for those employed to deliver our demands.

As long as we get what we want, when we want it, at a price we can afford, little else seems to matter.

CEOs are under pressure from their board and stakeholders for ever increasing profits.

Management teams are under pressure to deliver on numbers alone. Everyone from the executive to line management speak openly about ‘people being our greatest asset’.  Is that sentiment expressed consistently in behaviours?

The most powerful thing that was ever said to me over 35 years ago was, “The only people who need to be motivated are those who can’t see a future”.

That one sentence has proved to be a great truth to me. I don’t believe that it’s our parents, technology, patience or our environment that dictates this.

Whilst they all contribute in their own way, I  believe that it’s largely down to us. Everything else falls to blame or excuse.

Perhaps the truth is that is exactly why we are all here, to explore the opportunities and possibilities despite the challenges.

What do you think?

Watch the video here

Whilst I may not share some of his thoughts on this topic, Simon Sinek is still one of my favourite public speakers.

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