FEEL First Research: Millennials Don’t Like Leaders Who …

My FEEL First research journey continues. I’m speaking with Millennials every week to learn what they expect from leaders, including their interactions with business executives from their companies or the brands that interest them to government officials online and at different communications touch points. The communication model I’m building is based on these informal one-on-one interviews, social media searches using the Talkwalker Quick Search platform, as well as 30 years in communications and relationship-building best practices. 

Although I have a few favorite research questions, there was one that yielded powerful results. I asked Millennials to fill in the blank for the following statement, “I don’t like leaders who…” They were told they could answer in a few words or a sentence. What I ended up with was much more than I had imagined.  Millennials had a lot to say about leaders they don’t like.

As a matter of fact, they elaborated far more on this question than any other. Why? Is it because their leaders are coming across as leaders who don’t meet their expectation? Or, is it because they’re seeing communication that lacks an open perspective or appears self-serving and disingenuous, especially on social media? I see it everyday … there’s very little listening with a low tolerance for opposing or differing opinions, not to mention communication that is self-absorbed and isn’t transparent. Do you see this too?

The Millennials I’ve interviewed are clear, and they know exactly what they don’t like about leaders today. Take a look at some of the partial responses to the statement, “I don’t like leaders who …”

  • Don’t follow anyone on social media, and they don’t post anything other than policies and products.
  • Have a bad attitude and their tone is passive aggressive.
  • Blow up your feed and you still don’t get the answers you need. 
  • Don’t have integrity and are full of hot air.
  • Communicate through multiple persons and a complicated chain of command.
  • Don’t know how to lead; they were just put into a leadership position and have no leadership skills.
  • Ignore the criticism you share; Millennials want their voices to be heard.
  • Talk more than they listen.
  • Are egotistical and self-centered.
  • Are unwilling to learn and who have a finite agenda in their communication.

Strategy and planning have always been the focus of my work in PR and marketing. I’ve created countless communication roadmaps for brands and professionals, to successfully prepare, launch and implement their campaigns with a goal to build relationships and to create business value.  

Today, my research uncovers an approach that must be applied first. Based on Millennial responses to my questions over the last six months and numerous social media searches, leaders and business professionals must FEEL First before they communicate. FEEL stands for: Facing Fears, engaging with Empathy, using Ethics and good judgment and unleashing the Love of their mission to genuinely connect and to build loyal and unbreakable bonds.  

What is the genesis of my passion project? It all began after my step daughter Noelle passed away. She was only 24 years old and she was an outstanding scholar and an amazing young woman with a giving heart and someone who would have done great things in this world. Noelle’s passing was heartbreaking and it really threw my family’s world upside down. I started to research Millennials and their communication habits. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Millennials value themselves based on their performance and image. I also quickly uncovered that Millennials were more stressed out and anxious than years past. Anxiety and depression statistics are at alarming levels and so are suicide rates. Did you know that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in Americans from ages 10 to 34?  

From everything I’ve learned, it was time for me to step back to take a good look at the communication differences between generations; how people interact, the level of integrity, authenticity and the empathy in their relations. Are increasing communication touchpoints and a technology-driven world fueling stress and anxiety? Plus, when we communicate, how much do we really know about the people that we work so hard to build relationships with? As a communicator of 30 years, I want to make sure that any workshops, training, speaking and the courses I develop will always stress helpful, ethical, communication with EQ in the driver’s seat.

So what does all of this have to do with the development of the new communications model, FEEL First? Everything! Communication can make a situation better; it’s an opportunity to put on your emotional intelligence hat so you can listen and help people; an important first step to lending genuine support. When there’s good communication there’s more understanding and empathy; kindness and caring are also present. Most of all good communication is a time for openness and transparency and even vulnerability. Brené Brown, who is a researcher and storyteller, nailed this in her TED Talk. When you’re vulnerable you can build a real relationship. Plus, with good communication that exudes passion and pure enthusiasm you will attract inspired and motivated supporters.

However, today, we’re seeing far less good communication. Think about it. As you spend more time on your smartphones and engage in new technologies, are you noticing increased noise, frustration, and anger, whether it’s on social media, in the news, and within the four walls of your companies?

Of course, leaders have to be strong, take a stance, show confidence, be innovative and have a clear vision that people will follow. This must come through in all of their interactions. But, if you can’t balance your strength and IQ, with greater levels of Emotional Quotient (EQ) then your ability to build relationships, bond with your tribe and create blind loyalty will be limited. 

In an age of automation and Artificial Intelligence, it’s your emotional intelligence that separates you from the machine. Machines don’t have intuition, they don’t experience kindness and caring, they don’t know empathy and they don’t build relationships. Millennials are not shy about wanting their leaders to have more emotional intelligence. Here’s a FEEL First research blog post on this very topic. 

What’s my advice to leaders about their communication, based on how Millennials finished the statement, “I don’t like leaders who?“ In a nutshell, you have to FEEL First!