Was Luke Skywalker the First Millennial? (Develops Others)

Embrace This Generation to Avoid the Dark Side


A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away lived a twenty-something named Luke Skywalker. He worked on his Uncle and Aunt’s farm but was in a hurry to join the rebel alliance to help defeat the evil Empire—high aspirations for a kid with little experience. Ultimately, it worked out for Luke; however, we are left to wonder whether his Millennial-esque attributes impeded his potential or was a driving force in his success.

Luke Skywalker was part of the Millennial generation before there was a Millennial generation—he made his theatrical debut before Millennials were born, plus he did live a long, long time ago. As the first member of this esteemed generational group, Luke displayed the expectations, priorities and career ambitions of what us Earthlings deem as people born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. Notorious for their impatience, Luke expected frequent feedback, rapid career progression, and a wide range of career experiences.

Luke didn’t have the patience to listen to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s sage advice or complete Yoda’s Jedi training, yet he impulsively jumped into the action with a limited grasp of his Jedi abilities, no experience piloting an X-wing fighter, and a complete lack of understanding into the political complexities of dismantling a galaxy-wide tyrannical government. Contrary to previous generations like those of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, who were satisfied with a structured hierarchy and patiently worked their way up from Youngling to Padawan to Jedi Knight, Luke and Millennials alike presume that they should be heard and expect an expedited career trajectory. This may feel like a stereotype for an entire generation, but research does show that:

  • Nearly half of Millennials expect to be promoted regardless of their length of employment.
  • 25% of Millennials expect to be promoted at least every two years.
  • 47% of Millennials believe their generation lacks patience with established processes.

An extensive study by Richard Sweeney from New Jersey Institute of Technology supporting these findings stating that, “Millennials, by their own admission, have no tolerance for delays… They require almost constant feedback to know how they are progressing. Their worst nightmare is when they are delayed, required to wait in line, or have to deal with some other unproductive process. Their desire for speed and efficiency cannot be over estimated.”

If you aren’t a Millennial, it is easy to judge these attributes as a sign of society going to the dark side with seemingly impetuous, overeager decisions replacing the ‘tried and true’ ways we were taught. However, Millennials observed the challenges of their parents and learned to adapt by obtaining more transferable skills and diversifying their skill set by holding a variety of different jobs and career paths. Throw in their comfort, adaptability, and skill with technology and you can see how impatience can be a strength.

As the leader, you have a choice: you can stop hiring until the post-Millennial generation joins the workforce, or you can adapt. One manager I’ve worked with felt that adaptation meant that she “lost” and they “won.” I, however, see adapting as something we should always be doing anyway. Every generation (heck, every individual) has different needs. It is our responsibility to tap into these stimuli so we can inspire and motivate.

The accommodations we need to make for Millennials do not lower your expectations; the changes are more attitudinal. Consider a few of the following:

  • Increase flexibility around working hours
  • Set clear targets and provide frequent feedback
  • Create multiple paths and timeframes for individuals to grow their skills and reach leadership positions
  • Provide clarity on role expectations, progress, pay, and benefits to support a transparent culture
  • Satisfy Millennials’ entrepreneurial attitudes by delegating projects they can start and run on their own
  • Relax outdated etiquette rules so as to allow staff to “be themselves”

Embolden the Luke Skywalkers in your workplace. They do not want to wait for the opportunity to make an impact so harness their eagerness through various opportunities for growth and advancement. Be more forceful than Yoda when they try to skip out of training and are not yet ready to be on their own, but remain supportive with a clear framework of what they must first learn. Luke’s Millennial-like impatience saved Princess Leia from being tortured, Han Solo from remaining frozen in carbonite, and ultimately took down the Empire. Those on your team may not be as fortunate as to be from a powerful Jedi lineage, but you can help unlock their potential by becoming their Obi Wan.

David Kahn, PhD is an Organizational Psychologist focused on delivering business solutions that link culture and engagement with the business goals of the organization. Check out his latest book, "Case, Spandex, Briefcase: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes" and read more of his work on leadersayswhat.com.