Emotional Intelligence Training & Millennials

Half of The Junto Institute’s Alumni and Apprentices qualify as “Millennials”. This generation is known as one with lofty, unrealistic goals and expectations, and generally gets a bad rap for being entitled. I, myself, am a Millennial and regularly engage with our Millennial Alumni and Apprentices through our program.

These generalizations about my generation exist because there is some truth to them. I can be my own example, having studied public policy in college with the lofty and unrealistic belief that I needed to “change the world”.

Now, through the Junto Leadership Forums (one of the four elements of our program) I get to relate closely with a subset of Millennials as they work on improving their leadership and emotional intelligence skills. These young leaders are certainly not a generational “control group” by any means.

They are founders and leaders of rapidly growing businesses, and have elected to spend time and money on improving themselves and their companies. As we near the close our third cohort, I’ve made my own observations about the Millennials that go through Junto, especially those engaged in emotional intelligence training through the Leadership Forums.  


In the Forums, we get to know one another very well and get familiar with each other's life stories. Although information on individuals is highly confidential, I can share what I’ve learned in aggregate.

The large majority of the Millennial startup leaders I’ve gotten to know began young adulthood with a lofty goal or high-minded cause to crusade for. Soon upon entry into the workforce they encountered humbling lessons on their own limits and the complexity of why certain barriers to progress exist. After this healthy dose of reality came the questions, “So what can I do that matters?” and “What do I want to do?”. This is an unending search for all of us, and drove these Millennials to found or join startup companies.

Through their young companies, they merged their particular skills and talents with the opportunity to create something bigger than themselves. These individuals seek to still improve the world, but now they’re focused on their specific corner of it. One small stone at a time can move a mountain, and these leaders humbly apply unrelenting energy and passion to moving their "small stones". 


In the Leadership Forums we work to develop stronger leadership skills and heighten our level of emotional intelligence. A big way this happens is through improving Self-Awareness. In every Forum session, one individual has the opportunity to present a professional issue they are facing and hear shared experiences from the other participants.

I’ve been impressed time and time again, that when presenting an issue, my Millennial peers begin by admitting and analyzing how they feel they've contributed to, if not caused, the issue at hand. Of course, the Forum is a space where they can be open and vent frustrations, but I’ve found it interesting that in most presentations the startup leader begins and concludes by acknowledging that to resolve the issue, first he/she needs to change. 


In Forum sessions advice-giving is not allowed. Instead we focus on sharing related experiences, so the presenter of an issue is armed with information on how others have handled something similar. When Forum members are sharing their past experiences, it’s not only the presenter but the entire group that benefits.

It’s normal during shared experiences for multiple Forum members to be jotting down notes on ideas, resources or approaches to use in their companies and lives. The collaborative spirit of improvement is pervasive through all aspects of the session, even during our brief mid-session breaks. The side conversations usually consist of one leader pressing another to share more about a tool or technique they mentioned. 


Another aspect to the Forum process is practicing new habits and behaviors to work towards becoming more emotionally intelligent. After every Forum session, a new habit is assigned. Then at the start of the next session, every member reports on their highs and lows of practicing the habit in the weeks between the sessions.

As mentioned, my Millennial peers in Junto prove to be hungry to improve and have been extremely intentional in practicing these habits. In the beginning of the program, the habits we focus on are more basic like: “Become a Great Listener” and “Complimenting Others”. By the end of the cohort they are practicing more complex habits like: “Reading Others’ Emotions” and “Conflict Resolution”.

A regular pattern I’ve seen in the Forums is when accounting for how they did with the new habit, they not only reflect on the assigned habit, but also share circumstances where they practiced a past habit as well. As they practice more complex habits, they have found the behaviors build on one another with a snow ball effect. Throughout the year, it’s been normal to hear them share about continuing to intentionally practice a habit long past when it was “assigned”. As they near the end of their Junto Apprenticeship, the new discovery is that they are practicing past habits, but instead of doing so intentionally, it’s becoming an unconscious behavior. This is the marker of when real progress has been made in becoming a more emotionally intelligent leader. 


Although these are simply my own observations, I’ve come to believe the Millennial generation is fertile ground for bringing emotional intelligence training into the entrepreneurial workplace. They are open to self-analysis, relentlessly seek improvement, and are serious about implementation. I’m continuously impressed and proud of my forum-mates and peers, for all the ways they intentionally set out to be better people, doing great things.