Blog: Does power drive millennials?

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Does power drive millennials?

What happens when a generation that does not have ‘power’ as a drive gets managed and led by those who are driven by power?
Does power drive millennials?

Recently, I wrote about the hype around millennials – and called it over sensationalization of what essentially was an intergenerational shift. My intent was to restore a sense of normalcy into a phenomenon which was to my mind becoming a cacophony of semantics rather than a realistic study of the changes underway into the minds of the new generation just like any other intergenerational shift. 

As I think more on the subject and try to fathom the differences in what the millennials think and want, there are many that spring to mind. The most obvious one would be their comfort with the digital world, both as a tool to work upon as well as a vehicle to relate to fellow human beings and as a dominant vehicle to socialize. The extent of the world that they have created on their screens is enormous in scale and quite shocking to the previous generations for whom ‘the real world still involved people. A resulting inability to have meaningful conversations, negotiate, confront, and engage with people different from them while ‘looking into the eyes’ is difficult to miss. What it means to the world of supervisory behavior and leadership of the ‘men and women’ is anybody’s guess. I am not sure that the supervisory effectiveness development processes beginning at the early stages of careers in organizations have fully comprehended, leave aside addressed, this reality. I think most such development journeys still ‘assume’ a certain degree of ‘human interaction ability’ which might have been truer for earlier generation, but is increasingly under question. 

Millennials disdain ‘power’ as a human drive, look down upon it, find it difficult to deal with or work under it, and would not take too much time to quit the game if forced to negotiate with it

It is another difference that I think is more pronounced and more significant to my mind that I shall deal with today – which is the millennials’ disdain for power as a human drive. My guess is that millennials do not quite understand or even approve of power as human drive. Possibly they look down upon it, find it difficult to deal with or work under it and finally would not take too much time to quit the game if forced to negotiate with it. 

At the cost of generalization, my hypothesis rests on the observation that the previous generations – the ones who are the leaders/managers of these millennials are largely driven by power. This drive can be experienced and observed through multiple manifestations. For example, the need for explicit symbols of power – the heavy need for designations, the obsession with grades, the size of the cubicle and then the cabins, the entitlements of perks such as the class of flights – so on and so forth are clear giveaways of the underlying need, nay craving for accumulation of power. In a lot of sense, the previous generations including me, are colonials – imperialists who want a larger share of the globe. Every new territory, state and country that one ‘conquers’ (read manage) adds to the sense of ‘conquest’ – and reinforces the sense of power. 

Power as a driver does not stop at the symbols. Symbols are a mere manifestation. Deep inside bubbles a dire need to ‘control’ – an insatiable craving for ‘having ones way’. Disagreement and dissent is frowned upon and is considered as a form of ‘rebellion’ – and in true colonist way, the rebellion must be crushed, and the rebel must be erased. Obviously, my metaphor is designed to provoke and shock – in reality, it is much more sophisticated. Such people are transferred or disempowered or sidelined by those for whom power is a deep-rooted psychological need. The ability to engage counterpoints, divergence of point of view, alternative narratives of such a people is quite obviously poorly developed. Power is its own objective. Money may be a means to something – but power is its own end. Needless to say no one will admit to it – but it can be clearly and unmistakably experienced by people around. 

Millennials will not be able to relate to the markers of power nor will they be able to deal with an almost desperate attempt to preserve them by their leaders and managers

Millennials seem to be increasingly less and less driven by power, at least those are the early signs. They seem to be more driven about drives like meaning, joy, happiness, experiences, freedom and finally contentment. One can argue that this is classically Maslowian. What happens when a generation who does not have power as a drive gets managed and led by those who are driven by power? Explosion to say the least!

The disillusionment is both ways. The millennials will begin with bewilderment but end with disappointment. They will be asked to take notice of, behave, and respect markers that they themselves find shocking at worst and amusing at best. They will not be able to relate to those markers of power nor will they be able to deal with an almost desperate attempt to preserve it by their leaders and managers. The alienation of the troops is almost certain. 

The manager seeped in power as a drive will experience a terrible loss of control – all that worked earlier as means of earning respect, exercising authority, and eliciting performance will seem to crumble. This generation of leaders will find the new world of employees increasingly frustrating and difficult to work with. They will want the new drivers of life (the troika of meaning, freedom, and flexibility) as some woolly romanticism or wholesomely escapist, an excuse not to work hard enough – that is good to talk about but does not get the work done. The alienation of the generals is almost certain. 

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power" 

Abraham Lincoln

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