Make Them Captains of the Patrol Boys

Empower Millennials with Responsibility

Sister Mary Dorothy looked at me and said, “I would like you to be the captain of the patrol boys. Are you willing to do it?”

Enthusiastically I said, “Yes!”

I was in sixth grade at St. Paul’s Catholic School in Jersey City, New Jersey. Up to that time, I shunned leadership roles even among my friends. I was too nervous to speak in front of the class or read aloud. What did this nun see? She saw in me a desire for something bigger than anonymity. She saw I wanted more but didn’t know what was possible.

The patrol boys were responsible for keeping order in the two school yards and calling the student body to order. When I think back, both school yards were huge and filled with masses of kids.

Each patrol boy was identified by a white belt and sash. We also had a whistle. My job was to show up on time and stand in front of the Rectory, so I was easily visible to the entrances of the two school yards. There was a patrol boy located at each entrance and others located within the school yards. I was leading a team as a sixth grader.

Every day at exactly 8:10 am and 12:50 pm, I raised my right arm in preparation for the blowing of the whistle. When I caught the attention of the sentries at the entrances of the school yards, they would raise their right arms to get the attention of the patrol boys in the school yards. With all hands raised, I would drop my arm, and we would all blow our whistles as hard as we could. This indicated to the students it was time to be quiet and line up and march into school.

This was my first leadership role, and I performed it with great pride. I wanted to be the best patrol boy and best captain of the patrol boys Sister Mary Dorothy ever selected. I wanted to reward her for choosing me.

The Millennials’ Life View

The Gen Xers and Y’s who manage them, including their parents, are frustrated. Knowing how to motivate them and how to satisfy their needs is unclear. My experience with millennials includes my youngest son, his friends and my friends’ kids. They are intelligent, connected and well-educated. They are raw potential. They are also bored, frustrated with mindless work and looking for a purpose that matches their interests.

According to studies, millennials want instant gratification and recognition, work-life balance and flexibility, collaboration, transparency and certainty of career advancement. Sounds like a good list to me. I want all that too!

The Mission and Responsibility Solution

I believe I was in the same place when I was in sixth grade and Sister Mary Dorothy saw in me a shaky self-confidence, protected by selfishness. Her solution was to give me a title, a mission, a whistle and responsibility for other people.

My son Nick wants a sports marketing career. This is his mission and his interest, but he is unsure how to get started with meaningful work. About six weeks ago he landed an entry-level job doing promotions for the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. He promotes the museum at local sporting and community events.

He was dragging a bit until one day his boss gave him the responsibility of managing others. He got his whistle. This changed everything. He is engaged and doing a great job. Responsibility for others takes the attention off ourselves.

Go buy some whistles and give them to millennials in your company.