How to Adapt Your Leadership for Millennials

June 22, 2017

There may not be an industry that is plagued with more generational chasms and clashing than in professional sports. Specifically for the National Football League, every year new and eager Millennial rookies join teams with established cultures, playbooks, veteran players, and seasoned coaches who are separated by 1-2 generations.

When Jim Tomsula was coaching the San Francisco 49ers, he was asked about his stance on social media. His response was, “I don’t like it at all. I don’t know anything about it. I don’t do it. I don’t use it.”

With a team that has an average age of 25.2 years old, it only took Coach Tomsula a month to change his perspective of social media once he realized it was a crucial component to connecting with his new players and leading Millennials.

Here are a few items that the San Francisco 49ers are doing differently to lead Millennials.

Reverse Mentoring. Coach Tomsula takes time to learn the new apps and technology his players are using in a weekly recurring meeting.

Shorter meetings. They hold 30 minute instead of 2 hour meetings, and are striving for more visuals and more interactivity in each meeting.

Going digital. Instead of the traditional printed schedule, the 49ers now send digital alerts that players can access on their mobile devices.

Many fans and 49ers staff are skeptical of all of the changes and for the need to give into the tech dependent Millennials. Many thinking, “Why should we cater to the Millennials?”

Leaders and employers shouldn’t cater to Millennials but rather they need to begin leading and working like it’s the year in which it is. Technology and the Internet have forever changed (and continue to change) how we work. The Millennials are simply the signpost of this change.

In a related blog post, Tim Elmore, the founder and president of Growing Leaders and best-selling author of more than 25 books, offers a different angle to Coach Tomsula and the 49ers’ Millennial approach. Elmore suggests we “Coach as a Missionary.” Be a pioneer who leaves one’s comfort zone, enters a different culture, and learns the language and customs in order to reach people with their message. First study the culture and learn it’s values so that you can add value to it.

It’s not just coaches having to make adjustments. Recently I had the pleasure to see five-time NFL MVP, Peyton Manning, deliver a keynote presentation at a conference. Manning spoke about the constant need to “adapt his leadership to the next generation [of players]” by refreshing his expectations, perspectives, and vocabulary. Manning embraces a missionary approach by first learning and then earning the right to lead.

World renowned leadership expert and author, John C. Maxwell, recently taught from stage that to achieve posterity and legacy, leaders must pass the baton. But more importantly as Maxwell states, leaders must pass the baton at “full speed.” Not viewing from the sidelines and out of touch with today’s tech, but rather in a full sprint fully aware of the exponential times we live and work in.

Coach Tomsula is taking his leadership to a new gear in order to achieve a new speed that is necessary to take Millennials and the entire team to a new level.

Is it time you gear up?

(This post was a chapter from the new book, The Millennial Manual: The Complete How-To Guide to Manage, Develop, and Engage Millennials at Work by Ryan Jenkins. Jenkins is an internationally recognized Millennial and Generation Z keynote speaker, generations expert, and columnist. Ryan is also a Partner at, a micro-learning platform dedicated to helping Millennials perform better at work.)

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