How Executives Will Die In The ‘Millennial Grand Canyon’

Nevermind the fact there are signs posted at every trailhead warning hikers not to attempt a descent to the bottom and back to the top on the same day for risk of death. We were going to do that twice. So, with my small camelback and a Tupperware full of cold spaghetti (my lunch for the North Rim) we set out at 2 in the morning, headlamps bright. If you haven’t been to the Grand Canyon I’m not kidding when I say the pictures don’t do it justice.

The view will take your breath away. The feeling is unreal as you hike down into the depths of the canyon. With milestones like “Devils Corkscrew, Jacobs Ladder, and Phantom Ranch, we knew we were in for some grueling work.

The tricky thing about the Grand Canyon is that unlike hiking up a traditional mountain, you expend your energy after the descent. Instead of wondering why you were so exhausted on the way up, you feel great for the miles down only to be slapped in the face when you begin an attempt to return to the safety of the rim. It’s no wonder that cardiac arrest, heat exhaustion, and dehydration are to blame for countless deaths in the canyon. There are more than 700 documented deaths in the Canyon.

Hours later we emerged on the North Rim. I walked slowly, very slowly… because I could hardly feel my legs. I sat down on a rock ledge and pulled out my cold spaghetti. I just sat there looking at it. What seemed like only seconds passed until I realized I had been sitting there for several minutes and hadn’t touched my food, and I didn’t really want to. I looked at my hiking partner and best friend and said: “I don’t think I can make it back”.


I was concerned for my safety and what it might mean if I were to end up trapped down below and unable to continue. Even though we had no logistical plan for this scenario I knew it would be better to quit near civilization.

My friend continued on back to the south rim while I hiked an additional 2 miles to the North Rim Grand Canyon Lodge to see if I could find a way back to the South Rim. Lucky for me I found “Tom”, a driver shuttling luggage between north and south rims for those traversing the canyon. Crammed in a small van with very little leg room, lots of luggage, and a chatty driver,  we drove nearly 300 miles back to the South Rim.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow.

Like me in the Grand Canyon, today’s executives are making the same kinds of mistakes when it comes to the tidal wave of millennials entering the workforce. If adjustments aren’t made more than a few executives will find themselves unable to continue, or even worse, “dead” in depths of the Millennial Canyon.

Three factors were central to my failure in the canyon and are just as applicable to executives and the millennial landscape:

    1. I had no idea what was coming
    2. My preparation was all wrong
    3. I didn’t respect the canyon

Let’s explore each of these in a bit more detail.

I had no idea what was coming.

Any description of the Grand Canyon won’t do it justice, you just have to experience it. The temperatures can vary by 20 degrees between the rim and the bottom of the canyon, getting warmer as you descend.

That means a cool day at 70 degrees when you start turns into a 90-degree day when you’re on the canyon floor. Steep cliffs, narrow trails, grueling switchbacks, very little shade and limited water sources are conditions you have to navigate to be successful. The Canyon brings together common variables in a unique way that may feel common but don’t respond to common practices. Similarly, executives won’t enjoy the same conditions they enjoy now and what has worked with other generations won’t (and isn’t) with millennials. By 2030 the ideals and preferences of millennials will make up more than 75% of the workforce.

Gallup reports that today $30.5 billion is lost annually to millennial turnover caused by disengagement. This is staggering when we consider that only 25% of the workforce today are millennials. The money lost to millennial turnover is a significant reason why I forecast increasing pressure on HR  and those responsible for talent acquisition. It’s also  how I know HR will only shoulder the responsibility for so long… eventually, that pressure will move upstream and settle in the C-Suite. Executives who work hard to prepare properly now will enjoy a rare comfort in some very uncomfortable conditions.n

My preparation was all wrong “It’s just hiking, how hard can it be?” That was my thought.

I love playing basketball and around the time of this hike I was playing several hours of basketball every week. I upped my playing time occasionally spent some time on a stair master in preparation for the hike. My plan failed miserably. What I had always done to maintain my health and build my strength was no match for the conditions there. Likewise


the antiquated learning and development programs and the increasing absence of leadership today are no matches for the short attention span and development expectations of millennials. Managers and senior leaders of today are rarely equipped to meet the millennial demand for true mentorship and coaching. Research is showing that as individuals are promoted through an organization they spend less time with their team, more time in their offices, and more time outside of their department and organizations as a whole. The millennial needs a vision to align with, leaders to follow and perhaps most importantly, they need the humbling effect of controlled discomfort that only genuine leadership provides. Gallup reports that more than 50% of all employees meet with their manager less than once a month. Gallup also suggests that those who meet with their managers weekly have better performance than those who don’t. Executives seeking sustainability in their role and for their company will start closing the gap between employee and supervisor TODAY.

I didn’t respect the canyon.

Perhaps the most vital mistake I made was a lack of respect for the Canyon. It is majestic, inspiring and beautiful, but also, unforgiving, rigid and dangerous. On average 12 people die annually in the Grand Canyon and not only those who are out of shape, elderly, or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. They can be young, fit, and otherwise healthy individuals who didn’t have the know how, or simply didn’t give the Canyon the respect it deserved.

In a similar way, millennials are not being given the respect they should. And when I say respect I don’t mean “put them on a pedestal and worship them”. I’m talking about the kind of respect you give any other human being free of stereotyping or affixing the behaviors of a few to the entire group.  There is no shortage of criticism of millennials. There are browser extensions allowing the word ‘millennial’ to be replaced with ‘snake people’, endless lists of why they are the worst generation and even resolute proclamations to never hire millennials again. For executives, this is happening in your organizations, by those who manage, hire, and work alongside millennials and who undoubtedly will be surrounded by them in the coming years. Just like the Canyon, millennials can offer some significant risks, but only for those organizations which aren’t prepared. Success with millennials lies on the other side of thoughtful planning, openminded-out of the box thinking, and in some cases, an entire re-engineering of the executive mindset.

Prepare and Prevent

It’s not enough to say to this generation “this is the way the workplace is” only because it’s the way it has always been done. They’ve seen too much disruption of the status quo to believe that to be the case. When I went down into that giant hole, my traditional way of thinking about hiking was turned upside down, and with it, the strategy had to change as well. It took months for me to build up and return for a


uccessful hike of this magnitude. But once I had built up in the right ways, and with consistent maintenance, I was able to tackle that hike bi-annually for several years.

For the executive, millennials represent this same ‘Grand Canyon’ effect and you can either welcome the challenge by taking the time to build up in the right ways or end up as a sun-bleached skeleton in the depths of the Millennial Grand Canyon.

Greer Method Complete Coaching provides one on one coaching for executives and business owners.

Through expert coaches, habit locking technology, and proven processes we help leaders create, manage, and sustain personal and professional performance.

Jared J. Greer is the founder of Greer Method Complete Coaching. He is an executive coach, 6-time Ironman finisher, marathoner, ultra-marathoner, husband, and father of four.

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