The Millenial Manifesto: Motivation


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t speak for everyone.

I only know myself and my own issues. So any comments I make about my generation are simply an extrapolation of my own thoughts on my struggles, strengths, and style. So, please read my comments with a cautious eye.

Today, let’s discuss motivation. Last time we discussed the Millenial Generation, we talked about loyalty and employers. To distill the message: If you can find out what motivates us, we will be just as loyal as any other generation. The $1 Trillion questions is: What motivates a Millenial?

Allow me to shed some light . . .

1. Meaning – I know it has been said a million times, but I am just as interested in “making a difference” as anyone else. Now, that phrase is certainly over-worked, but to me it means that I look back at my career and see that what I did improved the lives of others and improved the place I lived.

Exploiting the arbitrage opportunities in the widget market in Southeast Asia’s developing economies can be extremely lucrative as a career, but that career would never allow me to go to sleep at night feeling like I truly accomplished something important or meaningful. I wouldn’t look back on that career with satisfaction knowing that I effectively traded the put options of textile conglomerates in Jakarta. Maybe that’s just me, but huge paychecks aren’t what I think will cause me to look back on a career with a sense of accomplishment.

I have to make sure that what I am doing is a meaningful endeavor and not simply a job that pays well.

2. Creativity – I need to have a certain level of creativity in my role. That isn’t to say that I need to be able to paint or write poetry. I just need an outlet in my day-to-day activities in which I am encouraged to think creatively, challenge the status quo, and invent new products or processes. That was probably the worst part of my job as an analyst.

When I worked as an analyst, my basic role was as follows:

Duke, here is a model. Here are some numbers. Put those numbers into that model. When you are finished, bring it to me and I will tell you how you input those numbers incorrectly.

Does that sound like an environment that offers ample opportunity for creativity and inventiveness?

There are certain time-honored traditions, battle-tested best practices, and hard-learned lessons that every member of my generation should try to adopt from previous generations. But every role should have an opportunity in which the employee can think creatively and dynamically about a problem that needs solving. All I really want is an environment in which I can approach a “boss” and say: What if we tried it this way? or Can I run an idea by you?

If I am in an environment that fosters those types of discussions, then I will have all of the creativity that I need.

3. Flexibility – If you measure my output, work-ethic, or effectiveness by the number of hours I sit at my desk, then you and I have a huge fundamental disagreement on what constitutes an effective employee. Life happens. People get sick, relatives pass away, friends get married, tires blow, lunches run long. If you micromanage the number of hours I sit at my desk, the vacation days I take, the phone calls I make, or any other way I spend my time, then I will try and find a way to leave your employment as soon as possible.

Here’s why:

You may think that you are paying me for my time. You’re not. In most CRE professions, we are paid for our output. Yes, attorneys and accountants are paid by the hour and need to log some hours, but for all of us who are deal-makers, we get paid by . . . making deals.

Since I am not an accountant or attorney, my hours worked is irrelevant. My output is the only effective measurement against which I can be judged. If I can accomplish in 5 hours what others can accomplish in 10, why do you want me to work 10? Maybe your theory is that “the most successful people in our business are the ones who work the most.” If that theory is true, then I will choose “moderate” success in business and will have a collection of fun hobbies that I enjoy and a wonderful home life that I can experience to the fullest degree.

This is a deep topic and we can discuss the ramifications of time management and our generation later, but the bottom line is: I want to feel like I am trusted with my time. If an employer tells me what hours I have to work, how many vacation days I can have, and how long my lunch meetings can be, they are essentially saying “We don’t trust you with your time, so you have to adhere to OUR time policy.”

Why would I want to work for an employer who doesn’t trust me with my own time?

4. Balance – I touched on it briefly in Flexibility, but a sense of balance in my life is extremely important. Every person defines “balance” differently, but I can tell you a little bit about what it means to me.

I am not my job. We all ask someone “What do you do?” when we first meet them, but I never want to be defined by my occupation. If all I am to this world is a commercial real estate deal-maker, then I will have failed to live up to the expectations I have set for myself.

One example that is unique to me is coaching. I coach travel baseball around Atlanta and I really find a sense of purpose and fulfillment through mentoring these young men via the game of baseball. That is a hobby of mine that I cherish and would not give up easily for any paycheck. Any job that asked my to give it up would have to be truly exceptional and I’m not sure that opportunity even exists.

Another example is my wonderful wife. She is the most important thing on this planet to me and having dinner with her every evening is important to me. Occasions arise where I have to chose between my job and my wife. My wife will win every time. No matter what. Fire me if you don’t like it. I’ll be fine. If I can only be great at one thing in my life, then it had better be as a great husband. If you want me to chose work over her, then you and I are going to have issues.

That is what I mean by balance. I have more than one passion in my life and I need to be able to pursue those passions without reproach or condescension from an employer.

5. Autonomy – I’ll admit up front that this is a tough one. The proper level of autonomy and decision-making-power to assign to each employee is an extremely difficult target to hit. I have never felt like I had too much responsibility or autonomy. I always feel like I have had too little autonomy, but I understand how companies want to limit down-side risk by having decisions funnel up through senior management. I get that and it makes sense, but consider human psychology.

Psychology 101 says every human everywhere wants to feel important. MMFI (Make Me Feel Important) is one of the oldest and truest leadership maxims in business. If you want loyalty, make people feel like they matter and are important to you. Make them feel like you trust them enough to make some decisions. For me, that means trusting me with a certain level of decision authority. If I feel like I have a reasonable level of autonomy to decide certain issues that arise, then I’m happy.

I am not asking for the keys to the castle or to park in the CEO’s parking spot. I just want some freedom to make decisions. I want to feel trusted and respected enough to decide on issues that matter to my employer. I would pass on a higher salary position if I had to sacrifice autonomy. The company that makes me FEEL  powerful and important will have little trouble convincing me to stick around.

6. Compensation – I want to feel like I am appreciated through my compensation. I DO NOT need to be the highest-paid guy around town. Let me say that again:  I DO NOT NEED TO BE THE HIGHEST-PAID GUY AROUND TOWN. But I do need to feel like I am treated fairly by my employer. The definition of “fairly” is totally subjective and dependent upon a number of conditions, but I will give you a numerical example.

Let’s say I make $50,000 per year. Cool. Everything is hunky-dory.

Now let’s say I find out that my friends who work in the exact same role make $70,000 per year. Not cool. My peers make 40% more than I do in almost the exact same position. All else being equal, I may start looking for employment opportunities at their company.

On the other hand, if I found out that most of my peers made $55,000 per year or even $60,000 per year in the same role, I would be MUCH less tempted to look around. That extra $10,000 is important to me, but it isn’t THAT important to me. In fact, notice where this motivation falls on my little list. I found five other aspects of motivation that came to my mind BEFORE compensation. If 1 through 5 are checked off of my list, then this one becomes much less important.

The bottom line to me is as follows:

If I can pay my bills, take my wife to dinner once in while, buy a couple books for myself, and not feel like all of my peers are egregiously above my level of pay, then my compensation is  fine.

I have plenty of time to make large paychecks and increase my income. For now, let me keep the lights on, take her to Buckhead Diner, have a copy of Man in Full, and not be the laughing stock of my peer network. Then you won’t hear complaints from me about my paycheck.

7. Education & Networking – This one may be a little more specific to me, but the two best ways that I know to advance in a career are through learning and meeting people. I am a knowledge-junkie and a network-aholic. I am always learning. I can never meet enough interesting people. I would love for an employer to pay my memberships dues to networking organizations and to reimburse me for my CCIM or CRE continuing eduction classes. I’m going to pay them either way because I love learning and meeting people.

It would certainly build some loyalty if an employer said “Duke, we think you’re important enough that we want to pay for your eduction and networking”. In that scenario, don’t you think I would want to say nice things about that employer at my networking meetings? (Hint: I would!)


So there you have it. There are 7 main factors that motivate me in my business life. Other members of the Millenial Generation may feel differently, but I would guess that some of the above points are universal.

Reviewing the above list, it strikes me that there are really just two common themes: trust and respect. Let me abbreviate the list according to those two themes:

1. I RESPECT myself for my chosen profession. 2. My employer TRUSTS me enough to allow me some creativity in my role. 3. My employer TRUSTS my ability to manage my own time. 4. My employer RESPECTS my personal life enough to allow me to attain balance. 5. My employer TRUSTS me enough to allow me to make decisions. 6. My employer RESPECTS me enough to compensate me fairly. 7. My employer RESPECTS me enough to pay for the things that help me advance in my career.

I can break down these two aspects on a deeper level in later articles. For now, consider your own motivation in the workplace. Do you have any to add to my list? Any of mine that are unfair or unreasonable? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

– Duke

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