Millennials Rewrite the Rules of Management

Excerpt from Chapter 5 of “Manager 3.0: A Millennial’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management” by Brad Karsh (AMACOM, 2013).

By Brad Karsh

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things.”

—Apple Inc.

You are ready to shake things up. You don’t mind rocking the boat, going against the grain, or charting your own course. The road less traveled—why not? The path never traveled—absolutely! A shortcut to any path or road (traveled or not)—well, that’s more like it.

After speaking with many Millennial managers, it is apparent you are not afraid to rewrite the traditional rules of management that you feel aren’t working anymore. When you think through the traditional rules of management, it can be a bleak picture. You think about:

  • Command and control
  • Authority telling you what to do
  • People executing orders or demands
  • Rules, regulations, and policies
  • Hierarchy and a chain of command
  • Looking up to find out information
  • Organization and discipline rule
  • Ideas and initiatives coming from the top
  • Shunning eccentric ideas from people who want to change the world
  • Doing whatever the boss says to do

Millennial managers are not going to do something the way it’s always been done just because it’s always been done that way—especially if it doesn’t make sense to them. When you think of modern day management and the values your generation is instilling, you think:

  • Consensus building and collaboration rule
  • Look out to find information
  • Ideas can come from anyone or anywhere—including the bottom
  • Being a leader people want to follow
  • Adjusting management styles to fit different people
  • Helping employees grow and develop
  • Engaging and empowering
  • Listening, understanding, and working together
  • Making mistakes is OK
  • Thinking differently is encouraged

Even the individual words used in this list are brighter, more positive, and more inviting. This is the language of Millennial managers. You want your organization to make profits and progress, but you also put a priority on people and passions.

If there is a faster, quicker, easier, or more fun way to do something, the Millennial manager will find it and take that route. You don’t mind throwing tradition or process aside if you can improve efficiency. You are accustomed to having a lot of data at your fingertips at a moment’s notice, and you don’t mind offering a new, different or unconventional idea if it will be beneficial—even if it shakes things up.

You grew up with change—in an environment where a six-month-old phone is outdated. Your generation has lived in a world that is ever transforming itself, so you don’t mind if your workplace reflects this “normal.” On the other hand, for older generations that may be more comfortable with security or proven strategies, they may not mind going along with the flow to keep things steady and consistent. You can see how tension may arise between the “why don’t we just try it” Millennials and the “why don’t we stick with the plan” elders.

Now you’re not shaking things up in a negative or revolutionary way, but you will tweak the ideas and structures that you don’t think work anymore.

Tearing Down the Ladder

“Tear down this ladder!” I have talked about this theme before, but Millennial managers will bring down the corporate ladder. Again, it’s not all about looking up at a boss; it’s more about working together as a group to solve problems.

This notion of connectedness greatly impacts how you perceive hierarchy in the workplace. With social networking, connections can be made like a spider web. In previous generations, a chain of command was just that—a chain. It started and ended at specific points, and movement up or down could only be made one link at a time. While fundamentally you don’t have an issue with authority, you don’t think about hierarchy the same way other generations do.

In a keynote address, Malcolm Gladwell, author of “The Tipping Point” compared and contrasted the idea of hierarchy versus the Millennials’idea of the network. Millennials don’t think in terms of hierarchy,as they are accustomed to looking “out” for information insteadof looking “up.” The Internet and social networks give you the informationyou need. Gladwell analyzed the traditional view of hierarchythrough a couple of prominent social movements. When you thinkabout the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, that was ahierarchy. There was a clear leader—Martin Luther King, Jr.—and therewas a structure and order in the people below him. Now take a look atthe two big Millennial-driven movements of recent years—Occupy WallStreet and Arab Spring. Who was the leader? Who drove those initiatives?No one really. They were inspired by social media and the powerof the collective. Again, a dramatic difference from other generationswith a powerful impact on what you will be like as a leader.

For Millennials, it’s not about the hierarchy ladder. It’s not about busting your tail and working countless hours to move up a rung on the ladder, to climb slowly toward the top. For Millennials, that sounds exhausting and unfulfilling. You want to make a difference, and you want to do meaningful work. That doesn’t mean you want to be tied to your desk and controlled by your job so you can maybe earn a few extra dollars one day. For Millennials, it’s not worth it. Millennials are turning this career ladder—where the only way is up—into career scaffolding.

You can take the ladder up toward management, but you also can take the parallel route for a career transition. You can go up, around, or across to try out different jobs, and you can even take the walkway down for less responsibility. There are different options to fit different people at different points in their lives. It’s not the “up-or-out” burn-out idea of the corporate ladder.

Companies such as Deloitte have embraced a similar idea termed the career lattice. Not everyone wants to bust their tail and work up toward senior management. Maybe a dad wants to take a step back to a less time-intensive role while raising his kids, or maybe a salesperson would like to make a career change into human resources at the same company. More organizations are moving away from the “up-or-out” philosophy to retain and engage top talent. Millennial managers will support this idea of a career lattice as great employees are shirking from the idea of “climbing the corporate ladder.” Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and author of “Delivering Happiness,” shares, “A lot of people work hard at building a career so that one day down the road they think it will bring them happiness. And most of the time, when they finally accomplish their goal, they realize that it doesn’t really end up bringing happiness or fulfillment for the long term.”

Likewise, Millennials aren’t game for putting in five to 10 years climbing up this corporate ladder to one day, maybe, possibly, hopefully, reach that point of happiness or success. Millennials want to have that all along the way. Your generation is more inspired by building relationships, having meaningful work, and making a difference. These are the ideas and values that inspire you, and these are the principles you will share to inspire your people.

Excerpt from Chapter 5 of “Manager 3.0: A Millennial’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules ofManagement” by Brad Karsh (AMACOM, 2013). For more information, visit

Brad Karsh is president and lead trainer at JB Training Solutions, which offers interactive programs to assist professionals in achieving success in the workplace. moved into HR, where he was responsible for hiring and training hundreds of employees. He has worked with companies including Abbott Laboratories, Quaker, Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Redbox, and GATX. Prior to starting JB Training Solutions, Karsh spent 15 years at advertising giant Leo Burnett in Chicago. He began his career in account management, working on clients including McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, and Pillsbury. For information, visit

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.