Preparing millennials for the grind: Not everyone gets a trophy in college football, or the working world

Posted On July 11, 2017

College football coaches find inspiration and motivational tips in a variety of places, from generals to CEOs to children battling cancer. It doesn’t matter where the lesson comes from, only that it is powerful enough to have an effect on a group of 18- to 23-year-old men who spend most of their time in the fall running into each other.

One coach, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, found inspiration from a motivational speaker and marketing consultant named Simon Sinek. But this inspiration wasn’t for his team, it was for himself and his fellow coaches.

According to’s Doug Samuels, Dantonio recently told a group of fellow football coaches that everyone who works with millennials needs to see Sinek’s video on millennials in the workplace, a 15-minute talk that has been viewed nearly 7 million times on YouTube.

In it, Sinek breaks down the four things he believes are keeping millennials from finding fulfillment in their working lives: parenting, technology, impatience and environment.

They are raised to believe they are special, that everyone gets a trophy, and they are addicted to the instant engagement of their cell phones and social media pages. With everything faster and at their fingertips, they expect instant gratification. And when they get into the working world, the corporate environments into which they are dumped do nothing to help them adjust to real life, where there is no safety net and gratification may take years of hard work to attain.

“You’ve got an entire generation growing up with lower self-esteem than previous generations – through no fault of their own,” Sinek says. “They were dealt a bad hand.”

Sinek says millennials aren’t to blame for how they’ve been raised and the technological age in which they were born. It’s a company’s responsibility to help them adjust, he says, and to show them the satisfaction of working on long-range projects and achieving long-range goals.

Part of that is forcing them to put down the cell phone and have human interactions – it’s the only way to build relationships and trust. And part of it is creating a culture of innovation, where employees are encouraged and given the space to wonder: ‘What if?’

That doesn’t happen in a day, and it doesn’t happen in an internet chat room.

How can all this help Michigan State beat Ohio State? By helping the Spartans’ coaches understand who they’re working with. Many of their incoming freshmen will come to Lansing believing that they are special, that they can have or be anything they want, and that success and championships are going to come yesterday. If and when these things are disproven, it has become increasingly likely that they will transfer to another school – a college athlete’s equivalent of job-hopping.

It is the job and the challenge of Dantonio and his fellow coaches to convince their blue-chip recruits that they’re not as special as they’ve been told, that success will not come as soon as they step on campus, and they are going to have to work long and hard for a starting position that may take a year or two to get. And it’s also their job to show those players the payoff that can come at the end of those years of work – championships, glory and possibly a lucrative professional career.

This is why one of Dantonio’s predecessors at Michigan State – Nick Saban, now head coach at Alabama – constantly talks about the importance of the “process.” By focusing players on what they call “the grind” and drilling into their heads that success is not guaranteed and will not likely be earned quickly, coaches like Dantonio and Saban can prepare them to deal with the inevitable disappointments that will come on the road to future success.

What Sinek is telling us is that our jobs as CEOs, business owners and managers is to do the same thing with our employees.

Categories: Generation Y / Millennials, Workplace