How to Help Millennials Overcome Failure

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Ryan Jenkins

By: Ryan Jenkins
Next Generation Speaker / Inc.com Columnist

Millennials’ altitude in their career and your organization is determined by their attitude towards failure.

According to a Babson College survey, 41 percent of 25-34-year-old Millennials cited “fear of failure” as their biggest roadblock to starting a business, up from 24 percent in 2001. It would seem that Millennials are searching for safer paths towards success.

Millennials are interested in anticipating obstacles rather than stumbling through them. They will leverage today’s abundant information, tools, and resources to minimize risk.

Although Millennials have a complicated relationship with risk. They’ve grown up in a connected world where failure is more public and permanent. One wrong move and the Internet can immortalize one’s failure. In addition, success is prioritized over failure on social media. Millennials don’t see the missteps of their friends on social media, which gives the false illusion that they are the only one experiencing failure.

Millennials also perceive risk differently from previous generations. Some would claim that climbing the corporate ladder is safe, Millennials would call that risky. Some would claim quitting a six-figure job to start a green smoothie business is risky, Millennials would call that safe because they are taking control.

Many Millennials grew up over-protected by their hovering helicopter parents who would deflect anything that appeared to be a failure. Now Millennials are entering the workplace where some are experiencing failure for the very first time, and it’s up to managers to help them thrive through it.

Millennials’ altitude in their career and your organization is determined by their attitude towards failure.

Ultimately people have two choices when it to comes to reacting to failure: fail backward or fail forward. It’s a choice. Leaders are in a unique position to help Millennials choose to fail forward and begin to view failure as deferred success.

  • Display Empathy
    Authority is given but influence is earned. The quickest way to earn influence with Millennials is to listen. Listen and display empathy by stating “I see you’re really disappointed, I know you really wanted to do better on this project.” Or share your own struggles and stories of failure.
  • Instill Belief
    An authentic belief in the Millennial employee’s abilities will prompt them to take more risks and be bolder in their actions. Highlight the strengths, skills, and attributes that made you hire them. Cultivate the belief that self-image is not dictated by external events. Millennials must understand that their self-worth is not based on their performance.
  • Encourage Ownership
    People are tempted to blame others for their failure. Don’t tolerate Millennials pointing fingers and taking a victim mentality. Help them understand that they rob themselves of the learning and growth that’s inside failure when they don’t own their failure.
  • Emphasize the Journey
    Help them to view failure as a toll booth instead of a roadblock. With a tollbooth, a price must be paid to move forward. Prepare the Millennial for the journey, don’t prepare the journey for the Millennial.
  • Facilitate Failure
    Create environments where failing is easy and encouraged. Remove any fear or consequences of failure and communicate that failure isn’t fatal or final.
  • Contextualize Failure
    Offer context around the failure. Help Millennials to see the failure as temporary. Putting the failure into perspective will help them see failure as a momentary event, not a symptom of a lifelong epidemic.
  • Challenge Them
    Challenging Millennials with tough assignments provides opportunities for failure and communicates that you believe in their ability to rise to the challenge. Resilience is a muscle that must be intentionally developed and practiced.
  • Stress Strengths
    Failure can be minimized when people are operating in areas of their strengths. Help Millennials to be wary of laboring too long in areas of their weakness. Spending too much time overcompensating for weaknesses will increase the likelihood of continued failure.
  • Coach vs Intervene
    Resist the urge to intervene to assist a struggling Millennial. Allow the Millennial to marinate in the failure but coach them to come up with a creative solution. Intervening only robs the Millennial of the opportunities to learn problem-solving, develop resilience, and cultivate confidence to take on new challenges.
  • Affirm Effort
    Affirm the variables that the Millennial can control such as effort, empathy, or strategy. Good effort, whether or not they failed, should be rewarded or recognized (Read this for more on recognition best practices for Millennials.) Failing to try or put forth effort is unacceptable failure.
  • Move On
    Have Millennials pause to unpack the failure but help them to understand that the past cannot be altered. Spending too long thinking about missteps can lessen self-confidence, stall progress, and divert focus. Coach Millennials to quickly forget the negative emotions of the setback and encourage them to press forward resiliently.

Benjamin Franklin said it best, “The things that hurt, instruct.” Failure is a teacher. Trial and error (emphasis on the error) is what forges stronger character. Failure-free individuals grow into emotionally fragile professionals who are susceptible to anxiety and lack the grit to succeed.

(This is 1 of the 47 strategies Ryan shares in his new book, The Millennial Manual: The Complete How-To Guide to Manage, Develop, and Engage Millennials at Work.)

This article was originally posted on Ryan’s Inc.com column, Next Generation Insights.

Reprinted with permission.

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