What will change when millennials lead?

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A reporter emailed me to set up a call to talk about millennials. There was a time in my life when I would have ignored the email. I’m tired of talking about millennials. But now that I’m home with kids, I say yes to reporters so I have someone interesting to talk to.

This one asked me about how millennials will change leadership. She wanted a quote about David Solomon – quintessential BS-laden story that millennials eat up. He’s the CEO-in-waiting at Goldman Sachs who is also a DJ and walked his kids to school. And then I remembered the other reason I don’t do calls with journalists: I go on tirades.

Walked his kids to school! So devoted!

Really, how do people believe this crap. Here’s what it’s like to be a millionaire and walk your kids to school: someone else wakes them up and gets them ready. And then there’s a car service to pick you up at the school and drive you to work.

In the past you got a gold medal for being CEO. (Or you got a gold medal for being a hot wife who raised kids who became doctors and lawyers.) Now CEOs have to be aspirational for millennials so they have to look like they won a gold medal for work-life balance.

Chelsea Clinton is a great example of how this balance means commitment to nothing. She was at McKinsey for a year. She fundraises for charities. She wrote a children’s book. For Chelsea, her career is a series of aspirational hobbies because she is too rich to just stay home with kids. She can buy the image of work-life balance. She’s a millennial gold-medal winner!

Gen X revolutionized leadership by leading from behind (because Gen X was always behind the Baby Boomers). The Internet disrupted publishing, Grunge disrupted music, food trucks disrupted restaurants. Then, as fast as you can say Barack Obama’s presidency, the leadership phase of Gen X was gone. And, like all things that Gen X reformed, Gen Y picked up the cause and got all the credit.

But I am never one to let millennials take credit they don’t deserve.

Because hello? Have millennials changed anything yet? I don’t think so. The only thing they’ve changed is how far someone will go to salve their endless need for external validation. Millennials invented the destination elopement, monthly subscription boxes of stuff, foods made from other foods. They transformed prom by going in a group. They transformed entry-level jobs by quitting in a group. They transformed startup culture by making it group therapy. They transformed social activism by donating to whoever their friends donate to.

So please, let’s not even talk about millennials as leaders, because the only leading they do is from their Instagram feed.  Millennials are so desperate for external validation that they make work-life balance competitive.

So David Solomon is a DJ like Chelsea Clinton is a book author. David has enough money to look like well-balanced guy even though we all know that you have to basically eat the organs out of your competition in order to get to the top of Goldman Sachs.

The millennials will be the first generation since the post-war generation where every household looks the same (all artisanal and bespoke, of course) and every family looks the same (millennial moms trade ambition for kids, millennial dads want to be home for dinner). Everyone wants to own less and share more. And leadership takes place on social media, where everyone looks toward the one with the most likes. Because more than anything millennials like to be liked.

Ten years ago I launched Brazen Careerist, which is now Brazen Technologies, a company name that makes me feel like I’m the parent of a child who just announced their new name is Sam and their preferred pronoun is they.

When I launched the company I was in my 40s. I never saw my kids. My husband demanded a divorce. And I was surrounded by twentysomethings telling me I wasn’t using email right, wasn’t using Facebook right, wasn’t leading right. I remember thinking: I can’t wait til they are in their 30s.

Now the time has come. Ryan Paugh has two kids and is running his own startup, The Community Company.

He sees his kids about as much as I did back then, and when his wife is pissed about their marriage, she calls me. (I scream at her and tell her divorce is not an option.) I hope there is someone telling him he’s not using Snapchat the right way, but there will not be someone telling him he’s leading the wrong way. Because he’s the quintessential millennial leader.

He and his wife, Caitlin, are work-life geniuses. Ryan comes home for dinner. There is no nanny. And Caitlin freeze dries food and makes medicine from herbs. Caitlin knew she couldn’t work full-time and have kids, so she does small stuff on the side, and when people ask “what do you do,” she gets to talk about her interesting work AND her stay-at-home parenting because she’s a millennial winner.

And Ryan just published at book. Of course. Because the business card is to work as the book is to work-life balance. It’s called Super Connector. It tells people to lead by way of a group. Seriously. Blows my mind.

I want to tell him it’s a totally stupid book and people need a real leader. What would animals do without a leader? Eat each other. What would cave men do without a leader? Starve without meat. And what would Steve Jobs have accomplished if he had been likable? Nothing, probably.

But Ryan is likable, and so of this moment. You can tell he’s so this moment is that everyone like me who is too old to be of this moment will not want to read his book. Which is exactly why we should. Because millennials are taking over the workplace, so we should get on board.


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