Simon Sinek is a leading authority on leadership and management. His TEDx Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” is the 3rd most viewed video on TED.com and his “Golden Circle” and “Start With Why” concepts outlined in his bestselling business books are widely cited in managerial circles.
But he could be about to make himself unpopular with millennials because he’s given an interview painstakingly laying out the reasons why he thinks the 18-34 generation is failing to achieve… anything.
Sinek, a London-born New Yorker, could be considered an unusual suspect to deliver such a message—he is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, a former strategic communications professor at Columbia University and a non-profit social activist.
Yet he tells an episode of business web show Inside Quest: “Apparently millennials are tough to manage and they’re accused of being entitled and narcissistic and self-interested, unfocused, lazy.
“But entitled is the big one. Because they confound leaders so much, what’s happening is leaders are asking the millennials, ‘What do you want?’ and millennials are saying, ‘We want to work in a place with purpose.’ Love that!
“We want to make an impact’—whatever that means. We want free food and beanbags. Somebody articulates some sort of purpose, there’s lots of free food and beanbags and yet for some reason they’re still not happy. That’s because there’s a missing piece.”
Sinek outlined four characteristics why millennials are unhappy: parenting, technology, impatience and environment.
He said: “Too many of them grew up subject to—not my words—failed parenting strategies where for example they were told that they were special all the time. They were told they could have anything they want in life—just because they want it.
“Some of them got into Honors Classes not because they deserved it but because their parents complained. Some of them got A’s, not because they earned them, but because the teachers didn’t want to deal with the parents. Some kids got participation medals for coming in last. The science we know is pretty clear—it devalues the medal and reward for those who actually work hard and it actually makes the person who comes in last feel embarrassed because they know they didn’t deserve it. So it actually makes them feel worse.”
Sinek added: “They’re thrust in the real world and in an instant they find out they’re not special, their mums can’t get them a promotion, that you get nothing for coming in last and by the way you can’t just have it because you want it. In an instant their entire self-image is shattered. So you have an entire generation that is growing up with lower self-esteem than previous generations.”
Social media imbalance is compounding the problem for millennials he argues by getting them addicted to unreality: “We’re good at putting filters on things and good at showing people that ‘life is amazing even though I’m depressed.’ So everybody sounds tough and everybody sounds like they’ve got it figured out. The reality is there’s very little toughness and most people don’t have it figured out. So when the more senior people say, ‘What shall we do?”, They sound like, ‘This is what you gotta do’ and they have no clue!
Sinek was at pains to say many of the millennial problems have been caused “through no fault of their own. They were dealt a bad hand.” But he said many young people are incapable of forming relationships: “Too many kids don’t know how to form deep, meaningful relationships…they have fun with their friends but they also know that their friends will cancel on them if something better comes along. Deep meaningful relationships are not there because they never practised the skillset and worse they don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with stress.”
He added the millennial unhappiness extends to sex: “You want to go on a date. You don’t even have to learn how to be like, ‘Hey…’ You don’t have to be the uncomfortable one who says ‘Yes’ when you mean ‘No’ and ‘No’ when you mean ‘Yes.’ Swipe right. Bang! I’m a stud!…everything you want you can have instantaneously, everything you want—instant gratification.
“Except job satisfaction and strength of relationships. There ain’t no app for that. There is slow, meandering, uncomfortable, messy processes.”
Sinek’s solution is that millennials need to take a more long-term view on life: “What this young generation needs to learn is patience. Some things that really, really matter like love or job fulfillment, joy, love of life, self-confidence, a skillset …all of these things take time…the overall journey is arduous and long and difficult….the worst-case scenario, and we’re already seeing it, is an increase in suicide rates in this generation, an increase in accidental deaths due to drug overdoses, we’re seeing more and more kids drop out of school or take leaves of absence due to depression.
“This is unheard of and really bad. The best case scenario is you’ll have an entire population growing up and going through life and just never really finding joy. They’ll never really find deep fulfillment in work or life.”
But he concluded: “They [millennials] blame themselves [but] it’s not them… It’s the total lack of good leadership in our world today that is making them feel the way they do.”