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The Millennial Workforce: Managing A Kaleidoscope of Assumptions, Beliefs, and Norms

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

If you graduated high school or college before the year 2000 you will want to take notes…Today’s effective leaders are double-loop learners, who can motivate not only their own generation but today’s Millennial based workforce as well. What do double-loop leaders look like we ask? Leaders who understand that as time, generations, and societies change, so must their foundational assumptions, beliefs, and norms from which they lead. Historically based leadership methods and leadership training are based on aged assumptions, beliefs, and norms. Most of these leadership assumptions, beliefs, and norms were created in an analog, pre-technology world, where agriculture and industrial manufacturing were the leading industries. Basic leadership assumptions, beliefs, and norms still taught today, date back to when the world was thought to be flat and computers did not exist. Millennial's grew up in an information technology-based world and do not have the same assumptions, beliefs, and norms as their parents or their grandparent’s generations. Consequently, they do not understand or work well under managers whose basic foundational assumptions, beliefs, and norms were formed in an economy and for a workforce that no longer exists.

Single-loop Leadership: Crushing Creativity and Innovation (Millennial's hate it!)

Single-loop learning and leadership assumes that the workplace assumptions, beliefs, and norms of each person within the workforce are similar, static, and linear to their own (or should be). For example, “Every manager has a mental model of the world in which he or she acts, based on experiences and knowledge. When he or she thinks of behavior alternatives within their mental model, this is single-loop learning” Henry Mintzberg (Cartwright, 2002). To visualize the concept, think of applying Henry Ford’s manufacturing concepts of mass production to leading or managing an organization’s human capital (i.e. the workforce). Single-loop learning and leaders force people to think “inside the box”, encouraging uniformity making controlling their behavior easier, all the while crushing every ounce of creativity and innovation out of the business.

Single-loop learning assumes that everyone has had similar social experiences growing up, similar educational experiences, and therefore leaderships assumptions, beliefs, and norms must have the same shared values of the workforce for which they are attempting to lead. However, in today’s global society and information-based economy, this ideal of uniformity of assumptions, beliefs, and norms is far from the reality in which we live and work, yet still, the much of today’s leadership training and practices of leadership are still based on this premise. Many leadership training programs simply slap a “shiny coat of paint” using a “new set of tools and techniques” on a faulty or old foundation. Industries and companies that began decades and even centuries ago are especially challenged to transform themselves into modern thinking companies. However, the supply chain industry has produced some of the world’s greatest examples of success, such as Amazon, Zappos, and others. IBM is also in the middle of a transformative leadership project using FourSight’s methodology of creative problem solving to challenge its traditional leadership thinking (FourSight, 2018).

Double-loop Leadership: Embracing Creativity and Innovation (Millennial's love it!)

Double-loop learners are different than past generations and single-loop learners and leaders. “Double-loop leaning is an educational concept and process that involves teaching people to think more deeply about their own assumptions and beliefs. It was created by Chris Argyris, a leading organizational trainer in the mid 1980’s and developed over the next decade into an effective tool for transforming existing leadership and training new leaders” (Cartwright, 2002).

Double-loop learning and leaders question their very foundational ideals to make sure that they are still relevant to those they are charged with leading. They dig deep into their foundational assumptions, beliefs, and presumed norms investigating their validity in the context of the current workforce, economy, and the organization for which they work.

Millennial's embrace this type of learning and leadership. Their core values, workplace assumptions, beliefs, and norms are based on double-loop learning and leadership methodologies. Today’s leaders and leadership training must understand this and begin to question the very foundation that their leadership ideals and methods are based upon. Once this is done and a fresh set of leadership assumptions, beliefs, and norms are implemented based on today’s workforce realities, then and only then can a truly transformative leadership training program be put into action and an organization modernize its leadership methodologies to keep pace with today’s socio-economic change.

The Millennial Workforce: Not Their Grandparent’s or Parents Workplace

The Millennial workforcedid not grow up in an analog world, linear, “in-the-box” world, where knowledge was limited, choices were few, and norms were shared on grand scales. Their assumptions, beliefs, and norms are as different as a kaleidoscope. that make these leadership methods effective. Transformative leadership asks a deeper question what are the assumptions, beliefs, and norms of today’s workforce? Then it seeks to create ways of leadership that best fit those assumptions, beliefs, and norms. This is why past generations of leaders do not understand how to motivate and lead the Millennial workforce.

The good news is that there are new ideas about leadership and new and emerging leadership methodologies which are proving to be highly successful at inspiring and producing high productivity and effectiveness rates, while encouraging and embracing the creativity and innovation American corporations so desperately need. You can have a fresh sense of “yes we can” in your workforce.

If you are not familiar with double-loop leadership thinking, I would be glad to answer any questions you may have and discuss designing a customized leadership transformation training program for your company.

Gregory A. Buschman, PhDc - Greg started his career at age 19 as a young entrepreneur in the construction industry and then found he has a passion for leadership, marketing, and technology. After 13 years as an entrepreneur, he entered corporate America, and for 20+ years he has excelled in regional, national, and global leadership roles in information management, digital imaging, and the print manufacturing industries. He holds two summa cum laude master degrees in Marketing and Information Systems and is a PhD candidate in Creative Leadership for Innovation and Change. and


Cartwright, S. (2002). Double-Loop Learning: A Concept and Process for Leadership Educators. Journal of Leadership Education, Vol. 1, Issue 1, Pgs. 68-71.

FourSight. (2018, January 28). FourSight Home. Retrieved from FourSight:

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