Seven ways for young leaders to overcome the slacker generation label

We’ve been talking about young leaders this week.  We started with three secrets for young leaders and then reflected on why it’s essential to get young leaders into your organization now.

So what about the reputation millennials have for being slackers?  It’s fairly pervasive.  Do a quick google search for the phrase “millennials are…” and the autocomplete adds “lazy”.  Burn.

Want to banish that label for good as a young leader?  Great. Me too! Here are seven habits that can help you do that.   Some of these I learned myself when I was in my twenties.  Some, I’ve learned from other leaders:

1.  Show up early. Don’t just show up on time.  Show up early.  Leave extra time for traffic.  Walk into the meeting early if you can, and at all times use the extra time before you walk in to compose yourself and get ready for what’s ahead.  Showing up early is a great practice on almost every level.

2.  Show up prepared. Whether it’s just a day in the office, a critical meeting or a lunch, pre-think what’s going to happen.  Show up with your head in the game.  Have your homework completed, digested.  Have all the tools you need with you ready to go (charged laptop or tablet, meeting notes, handouts – whatever you need.)  Showing up prepared shows that you value other’s time.

3.  Develop a system for capturing to-dos with 100% accuracy. When you’re the low person on the org chart, you’re probably going to get a lot of ‘follow ups’.  It’s critical that you develop a system for capturing to-dos, follow ups and notes.  Currently, I use Things by Culture Code across all my devices. Regardless of what you use, the system is key.  Only eight year olds have a simple enough life to keep it all straight in their heads.  You need a system you can rely on all day every day no matter what.

4.  Take notes. Always walk into a meeting with something to take notes on.  Chances are you will need them, but even if you don’t, you will have an opportunity to capture life lessons, ideas, approaches and perspectives that can help grow you as a leader and person.  Plus it speaks volumes to the person you’re meeting with that you value their time.

5. Think productivity, not hours. Believe it or not, long hours don’t impress bosses nearly as much as productivity does.  When I was in law, I was one of two students in the firm that year.  I decided to go home every day at 4:30.  I never worked a weekend.  The only time I was home late was when I was out of town in court.  My counterpart stayed till midnight and worked every weekend.  But I worked very hard during the 8-10 hours a day I was in the firm.  I also won 98% of my cases that year.  In the end, they fired the other student and offered me a job.  I made the firm over $100,000 that year. Despite his long hours, he didn’t generate a profit for the firm. Think productivity, not hours. This isn’t an excuse to go home every day at noon – but it is a call to be productive.

6. Advance the mission. Your job is not to fill a space, but to help your organization (in our case, a church) advance its mission.  In the same way in my year as a law student I helped make money for the firm, you need to think about how you can help advance your organization’s bottom line.  In our case as a church, it’s not money we’re after, it’s life change.  If you can come up with fresh ways to help your organization advance it’s mission (more baptisms, reaching more families, or in other fields, reaching more customers, solving more problems, generating new products) they will want to keep you on for a long time.

7.  Ask for direct feedback. When I was in law, it bothered me that there was no feedback in the first month.  So I made an appointment with one of the partners and asked for some.  He gave me lots of feedback and it helped me get better faster.  Don’t wait until the year is over to figure out how you’re doing.  Ask for feedback, and when you get it, don’t be defensive.  Don’t justify.  Seek understanding.  Thank them and then act on it.  You will get better faster – a lot faster.

I’m so excited by the next generation of leaders. I hope these tips can help leaders go further, faster. I really don’t believe the next generation is consigned to be a generation of slackers.  Some of the people I’ve met are among the brightest yet.

What helped you get better as a young leader?  What would you add to this list?


  1. […] If you really would like a helpful article on getting ahead and working hard, I recommend this article by Carey Nieuwhof on how to overcome the Slacker Generation […]

  2. inOhio1976 on July 18, 2013 at 11:00 am

    I understand the intent, but this is all wrong. Leadership isn’t about playing into stereotypes and adapting to individual preferences. This, in many ways, would be like me telling my daughter, ‘Some men have issues with women being in leadership, so, learn to play golf and try not to dress too feminine.’ Instead, I think I would say, ‘Be yourself, be strong, be ethical, be fair, be available and be a woman of character.’ There will always be those who hold prejudice, albeit around age, race, gender, etc., if you strive to accommodate them, you will strive to achieve nothing. Becoming a workaholic to please a Baby Boomer is simply poor leadership advice. And, if the only person who knows you’re there early is your boss, well, he/she should be ashamed for making you second guess the reason he/she hired you.

    • inManitoba on July 18, 2013 at 11:17 am

      inOhio – did you actually read the whole thing? It isn’t about bending over backwards to please a “Boomer” or working your fingers to the bone – it is about being wise and savvy with your time and talents and knowing the culture of the workplace that you’re in. No one likes hosting a meeting with unprepared and late people showing up! Time to re-read the post again

      • inOhio1976 on July 18, 2013 at 11:30 am

        So, this is for all leaders, regardless of age? My impression was that it was written for young leaders facing the stereotypes that Millennuals are lazy and self-centered. If I misread that, okay. However, our work environment isn’t going to improve or change if we simply accommodate those who have these stereotypes. Leadership is about helping raise others’ awareness and supporting the process for their growth and development, as well as the organization’s. Too often we confuse age and generation and try to mold a new generation into one like ours. Instead, let’s let them lead, embrace the strengths they bring & stop appeasing men. How many young leaders leave an organization because what they were hired for becomes less important than meeting unimportant expectations of other leaders/employees.

        • cnieuwhof on July 18, 2013 at 3:18 pm

          I agree we need to value the strengths everyone brings to the table and appreciate that. I think young leaders bring a ton to organizations. If you look at my other writings (including the posts I linked to in this one), you’ll see I think younger leaders bring a ton to the table. But I don’t think lack of promtpness or dropping balls works for any generation. If you can create a great organization by doing that – more power to you. And these seven issues address issues that tend to center around younger leaders, who otherwise bring tons to the organization. We all have areas of growth for sure.

          • inOhio1976 on July 18, 2013 at 4:42 pm

            Thanks for your reply. I certainly didn’t believe your intent was to stereotype, however, when we title articles like this it can communicate that this is an issue for young leaders only, and, that we should train leaders to be more like us (in at 7am, out at 7pm). From a ministry point of view, I know a lot of seasoned ministers who’ve done this at the expense of their family.

            I was in no way suggesting that any organization can/should be built on leaders who drop the ball or aren’t prompt. I was only trying to create some dialog around these continued impressions of young leaders as being constantly tardy & too inept to show up prepared for meetings. I’ve worked with a lot of leaders & that, unfortunately, is not isolated to one generation.

            I enjoy your blogs and viewpoints. Thanks for keeping then relevant & well thought out.

          • cnieuwhof on July 19, 2013 at 9:38 am

            Totally get that. Thanks! I wrote this article originally as a response to many of the criticisms my colleagues have leveled at young leaders and, in part, as a response to some of the weaknesses I’ve seen. I think young leaders bring way more strengths than weaknesses, so these were designed to overcome a few of the weaknesses I’d seen and heard and designed to be just good advice for any leader starting out.

  3. Aaron on July 18, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Great advice for 32 year olds too. When I took my first corporate job at 29, it was a rude awakening. I knew I had talent and a strong work ethic so I couldn’t figure why I received disappointing feedback from my bosses. As I’ve developed in each of the ways you have listed, my success and my salary have grown significantly.

  4. Robin Padanyi on January 29, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Thanks, Carey, for this timely post. I’m going to put this into practice in my life right now.

  5. Gary Martin on October 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    STUPENDOUS….differeniate yourself in every positive way, starting with 1)show yourself to be humble but knowledgeble 2)be an obvious EXCELLENT listener 3)Work intelligently and long enough to complete the job competitantly 4)develope appropriate relationdhips with your fellow emplyees 5)make your self available for unforseen projects 6)always use proper language and avoid offensive actions, both verbal and physical 7)under no circumstances avail yourselves of property that is not yours not withstanding the cost eg paper clips elastic bands etc..honest in a little, trust worthy in much…..I COMPLETE MY COMMENTS, DISCLOSING MY BACKROUND…I PRACTISED BANKRUPTCY MANY YEARS AGO AND THEREFORE MY COMMENT, BEING 74 MAY WELL BE ANTIQUATED.

    • Carey on October 20, 2012 at 2:57 pm

      Not antiquated int he least Gary. Thank you!

  6. Krista Veteto on October 19, 2012 at 8:32 am

    Wow. This article is excellent. I agree 100% with it. I’d add:
    1) Intentionally build relationships with people around you, especially those who have characteristics you want in your life. Ask questions and listen. Desire to learn from their experience and their perspective.
    2) Learn active listening skills. Listening has more value than you can imagine. Active listening is about seeking to understand what people are trying to say. Ask clarifying questions.

    • Carey on October 19, 2012 at 9:27 am

      Krista. These are two great points. Thank you so much!

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