Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Workplace — A Critique

Abhishek Paul
4 min readOct 31, 2018

Note: Millennials are those born post 1994 and are currently entering the job market en mass.

I should confess that I love Simon Sinek’s insights on “Begin With Why” and leadership. In both cases, he cuts to the core of the issue and offers insights that are both deep yet practical. When I compare this with his take on millennials, I was more than a little disappointed. This is not to say that there aren’t some interesting learnings from it — on the contrary, it’s a good watch and I would recommend it to anyone interested / working with this group. This review will also make more sense once you get the context from the video.

The video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hER0Qp6QJNU

Simon says (pun intended) that bad parenting, addictive technology, instant gratification culture have all contributed to the sense of entitlement, impatience and other issues we associate with the millennial generation. All of these are realities and the troubling issues arising out of technology addiction (ie isolation, failed relationships, suicide) are unfortunately very real. I will grant him all this.

My main issue is with his diagnosis. He uses the terms “dealt a bad hand” and “no fault of their own” multiple times and especially when he seeks to drive home a point. And what is he referring to? Overprotective parents, those who spoilt their kids by giving them too much attention and choices, a time in civilization where they have both the freedom and means (access to people, information, increased affluence) to at least try whatever they want to do in life? I have trouble with Simon painting these out to be insurmountable obstacles that somehow serve to excuse their behaviour / choices.

The problem is that he’s comparing the context of the millennials in isolation and against an idealistic scenario. Instead if he had laid out the contexts of the preceding generations (Gen Y, X, Baby boomers), we would have got a more realistic picture of how their environments shaped them and more importantly, how they overcame it to create a more prosperous / comfortable lifestyle for the next generation! And this is my main problem, Simon’s logic fails in 3 fronts:

  1. If the millennials’ poor choices are “no fault of their own”, ie, it’s because of the environment, then they can take no credit for any success they might achieve either, as the credit there also must go to the environment — you cannot have it both ways.
  2. If the poor parenting styles are responsible for the millennials behaviour and this somehow absolves them of any responsibility, then their parents can also point out that their shortcomings are also due to the preceding generation’s poor choices and their environment. We have created a game of infinite regress in blame shifting and avoidance of accountability.
  3. Simon’s solution is that the companies now have to pick up the slack and solve the problems that the millennials face. He’s basically asking the company to become the smothering parent that caused the problems in the first place! Shouldn’t the individual take maximum ownership and the most we can expect from the company is to be a facilitator ? We are going backwards.

I will still take Simon’s reasoning as a way to understand the context of the behaviour and the influences they’re under but I will not buy into this well intentioned but ultimately crippling mentality that the millennials are somehow not strong enough to overcome their circumstances. Maybe they should crack open Stephen Covey’s “7 habits”, or memorise, “If” by Rudyard Kipling and “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, maybe listen Jordan Peterson’s take on the necessity of the interplay between responsibility, meaning and suffering for individuals to mature.

Dear Simon — the millennials are capable of much more and they will achieve much more, just as each preceding generation has done. Support them, encourage them but please do not cripple them by making up excuses.

Invictus

- William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

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