Millennials as Coaches: Overcoming Barriers
Bridging generational differences in the workplace has been a hot topic for years. The term “Millennials”—used to label individuals now in their 20s and 30s who represent the largest group in the workforce—is commonplace and sometimes controversial.
Many companies are invested in building cultures that engage Millennials and encourage more cross-generational collaboration. However, despite the focused attention, questions still remain about the generational gaps that exist and how they can best be articulated and addressed.
The professional coaching field seems well-positioned to both help facilitate this conversation and to benefit from lessons learned.
Curious about the relevance of age difference in coaching, myself and some colleagues set out to uncover the rich learning embedded in responses to this question: What barriers keep Millennials from effectively coaching clients of older generations, and how can these barriers be overcome? To seed the ideas explored in this article, we held conversations with newly-trained Millennial coaches and their seasoned, Baby Boomer and Generation X coach counterparts.
We believe the unique nature of the coaching relationship offers an opportunity to displace—or at least lessen—the barriers of age difference in the professional realm. The coaching field offers a particularly ripe opening for Millennials who desire to facilitate the growth process for others, including individuals older than them.
Skilled coaching, unlike consulting or mentoring, is not as dependent on work and life experience, but more so on the qualities of presence, self- and other-awareness, intuition and deep listening, and skillful inquiry. These qualities can naturally flow from the professional experiences and maturity that come with having more years; however, it also seems possible that a younger, less-experienced professional could cultivate these qualities and demonstrate competence as a coach, even to those of older generations.
Yet, this picture goes against the grain of societal norms. We do not typically expect to see a Millennial coaching a Baby Boomer. It feels backwards.
The Millennial coaches we interviewed felt intimidated by the idea of coaching someone older. Almost all of them could relate times in their professional careers when their qualifications were questioned, they had to justify their experience, or they were the recipient of unsolicited advice-giving from older professionals.
Surprisingly, however, these external frustrations are not what Millennial coaches say hold them back. They name internal assumptions and self-talk, these deep-seated threats to self-awareness and self-confidence, as primary obstacles. Many Boomer and Gen X coaches would cite the same. Unhelpful thought patterns can impact one’s coaching stand and, thus, hinder one’s ability to effectively coach, at any age.
It seems that societal norms—specifically the belief that younger people are somehow less qualified—can be internalized in the Millennial coach, and, if left unconscious, can negatively affect the chances of establishing and maintaining a successful coaching partnership with an older client. However, when Millennials—or coaches of any age—develop awareness of this internal landscape, they move toward taking responsibility for themselves and personally journey deeper into confidence as a coach.
For example, a Millennial coach might assume an older client has things figured out and that he, as the younger person, has nothing to offer. He might also assume the older client is thinking the same things. As you can imagine, this disempowering combination of thoughts would likely undermine his ability to see himself and the client as resourceful and whole. His inner uncertainty would distract from the coaching conversation.
However, in debunking these negative assumptions and working to change his internal landscape, the Millennial coach can overcome barriers.
The Millennial in the example above could wholeheartedly pursue excellence and enjoyment in the coaching opportunities he is given. He could choose to stop fretting about his “rank” and stop guessing what others are thinking, instead, leveraging his age as an asset. With these shifts, a process of integration and mindful-retraining is taking place; the Millennial coach is more comfortable bringing the gifts of his own presence to coaching and all his work in the world, and he has taken responsibility for the only factor he can influence: himself. Clients will notice the difference! Although the Millennial may still be aware of his age, it is no longer getting in the way.
Effective coaching elevates a powerful, authentic connection—a special kind of conversation and flow between coach and client—that makes age irrelevant. When coaches, Millennials or older, are at their best, they are fully present and able to effortlessly navigate the dynamics that arise. When moments come up in conversation where differences matter, these coaches are able to name and hold the dynamics authentically, and, in doing so, to reinforce the transformative power of coaching.
The path to mastery seems to reside beyond a willingness to shape our internal landscape. Regardless of age, we decide how far we’ll go.