Old School Theory for Millennials & Gen Z

Millennials & Gen Z — we are naturally good adapters.  The world we grew up in has been changing fast for our entire lives.  An example?  We went from Cable to Satellite to Netflix on our phone like THAT!  You can leverage your ability to adapt well by understanding the people around you and how they make decisions.  Today I’m giving you an old school theory that has helped me be successful in my personal and professional life.  I know it can help you reach your goals, too!

I can’t think of a business where you don’t have to interact with other people at all.  One way or another, we all come in contact with people in our work whether it’s customers, supervisors, shareholders or co-workers.

If you want to be more successful, you have to intentionally get to know the people around you.  When you truly understand someone’s motivation, then you can make heads or tails of why they do what they do.  That knowledge is valuable because it tells you exactly how you need to adapt your approach — whether it’s your words, your actions, your activities — in order to achieve your goals.



I could dig SO DEEP into motivation, but I am going to laser focus in on a theory you’ve probably already heard of, but like most people I know, you probably haven’t used it to be more successful in your career.  Now’s the time to change that!

If you took a Psychology 101 class in college or have been in almost any leadership training then I am betting you have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Abraham Maslow published this theory in 1943 and even though it is 75+ years old, it is still as good today as it was then!  

Millennials & Gen ZThe most simple way for me to explain this theory for those who aren’t familiar with it is this: instinctively, people start trying to satisfy needs at the bottom of the triangle first.  As they satisfy one need, they move up to the next. If you are at the top of the triangle and something happens that pulls the bottom out from under you, you’ll drop back down and work to satisfy that more primary need before moving back up to the top.


Relevance In 2019

Let’s play out a real world situation many Millennials & Gen Z employees face when they enter the workforce today.

Let’s say you (a younger professional) are hired into a management position where you report to someone who has decades more experience than you.  You’re smart and confident so you come in with guns blazing, speaking up when you have legit suggestions on better ways to do things and changing procedures in your area.  You think you are changing for the better. You think everyone should be pumped, right?  

Well, it doesn’t take long before you start noticing your supervisor acting strange towards you — maybe even hateful at times.  Furthermore, it’s possible they could be talking negatively about you to other decision makers in the company. 

This is where it becomes critical that you are hyper aware of the people around you.  You need to focus on listening to what they say and what they do in order to correctly figure out where they are on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  You have to figure out where they are so you know how to adapt your approach.  When you satisfy their need by adapting your approach, then that gives them the freedom to give you what you want.  This is a win-win!  

Back to the example with you and the supervisor…

One day you’re having a casual conversation with your supervisor and they make a quick few comments about the fact that you are not afraid to speak up, management takes your suggestions and because of that, they’re afraid they are going to be replaced.

Ding! 💡

Were you paying attention?

That’s your aha moment.  That is the reason for the rub between you two.  They are afraid they are going to lose their job because someone else’s ideas are being taken, not theirs.  Going back to Maslow’s Theory, they were afraid their primary need — their job security — was in danger of not being satisfied.  And honestly, if it was me, that would be a really scary feeling! 

As soon as that light bulb goes off,  you have to figure out how to adapt. You need to turn this relationship around so it doesn’t hurt your career.  This is an opportunity for you to step up and take responsibility to fix this — whether it’s your fault or not.  For this situation, you could quickly admit that you don’t want their job (let’s say that was the case). Then going forward, you could adjust your approach to include them more so they felt apart of the process, not like an outside resource everyone could do without.  By doing that, things will change for the better for everyone! 


Successful Millennials & Gen Z

No matter how well you are performing, the people around you can have a positive or negative effect on your career.  When you want things to work in your favor, stop and think about the people around you.

Most of the time, people will make sure their own needs — especially primary needs — are met before helping someone else reach their goals.  To be successful, it is critical that you tap into your recent knowledge of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs constantly.

Ask yourself:

  1. THINK 🤔 — What need are they trying to satisfy right now? 
  2. ACT 👊🏻— How can I adapt my approach to meet their need and still make progress toward crushing my goal?  

I fiercely believe YOU can control you own success.  It is in the intentional moves you make every day — big and small — that drive your success.  If you choose to consciously reference this theory and adjust your approach with every interpersonal interaction you have at work, you will start winning.  Their needs get met and you get what you want.  It’s a win for them and a win for you!


Need Help Improving Your Leaders & Teams Communication? Let’s Talk About It.

#motivation #maslowstheory #millennials #genz #whatworks #leadership2019 #leadershipdevelopment #professionaldevelopment #success #successmindset

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Alyson Van Hooser
Author: Alyson Van Hooser
Alyson Van Hooser, Leadership Keynote Speaker, Trainer on Millennials, Gen Z & Women in Business With the grit that only comes from tough experiences, Alyson has learned a thing or two about personal and professional success. From her management experience with Walmart, as an elected city council member, bank manager — all before the age of 30 — Alyson has wisdom well beyond her years! Her podcast, Stake: The Leadership Podcast, offers a fresh perspective on leadership and helps multiple generations successfully work together! Connect with Alyson on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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