Cultivating Young Leaders

March 1, 2015
Mike Mohler, chairman of the education committee of the Auto Care Association, discusses how to grow millennial leaders in your shop

According to recent studies, the millennial generation will become 36 percent of the workforce by 2015. While recruiting the younger generation is a frequent conversation in the automotive aftermarket, understanding how to promote and cultivate leaders out of an often-misunderstood generation is equally important. 

According to Mike Mohler, chairman of the Auto Care Association’s education committee, the challenge may be steep, but it’s not nearly as difficult as it may seem. Through his work with the Young Auto Care Networking Group, Mohler has experienced first-hand what the millennial generation is looking for and how to create leaders that are energized and engaged in the shop and industry at large.

Why is guiding millennials into leadership roles something that shop owners need to pay close attention to?

We euphemistically refer to our industry as a “graying industry.” When you look at the quintessential millennial, they are a) highly educated, more so than any other generation, b) upwardly mobile and get restless easy, and c) want to be challenged and part of the club. They want to be deferred to. 

For this generation, the ideal employers are Apple, Google, Facebook, the U.S. State Department, and government agencies. How can we compete for and win this generation over in the face of seemingly overwhelming alternatives for young people to build a career with? If I’m a shop owner and I want to appeal to younger people, think about all of the technical prowess, all of the data discovery abilities you need to have. Who better than a generation that’s grown up and plugged in? If I want to be relevant 15 years from now, I’d better have some young people there that have the skill and aptitude to become leaders.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of this generation?

One of the challenges is, first of all, that they seem to be so misunderstood. When you boil it down, they are not any different than any other generation that has come before them, in terms of being misunderstood. Take a look at this quote: “The children today love luxury, they have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for elders and love to chatter in place of exercise.” People will say that applies to the millennial generation but this quote was first penned by Socrates back in 500 BC. I use that to start the discussion because everybody says the young people are so different, but if Socrates had the same complaints, maybe there’s a clue there that, although each generation is a bit different, it’s not as bad as it seems.

All of the stereotypes have been born from misinformation and over-reaction. Those may include traits like selfishness, unwillingness to work hard or pay their dues, or they’re grumpy or misunderstood. What I’ve found from dealing with them is that they are liberal and expressive. I have found them to be collaborative. They’re as team oriented as any I’ve seen. 

Where does the disconnect occur between the expectations of the younger and older generations?

If I’m a company and I want to cultivate young leaders in my shop, I have to understand that what I think is important is not what’s going to motivate the people to join me or stay with me long enough to train and promote. 

Here is what you need to understand about what this generation is looking for in the workforce: Eighty-one percent of millennials donate money, goods or services to causes that they think are important, according to a Walden University survey. That’s important as I think about my company’s strategy and how I interact as a corporate citizen. 

A recent Bentley University Center for Women and Business survey looked at their opinion on values. Seventy-five percent of millennials say they will not compromise family or personal values. They work so they can live, not live to work. When given an option between a $40,000 a year job they love or a $100,000 a year job that’s not important and boring, 64 percent would take less money and a job that they love. If I’m an employer thinking that everyone is like a Gen Xer and that money is the motivator, that’s just not true.

If a millennial is not challenged, they’ve got no qualms about going somewhere else. 

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