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MILLENNIALS IN THE WORKPLACE: The 7 Famous People That Motivate Millennials

Part of our Designed To Win series on the millennial workforce

For many of us, motivation comes from larger-than-life characters that embody what we all hope to attain someday.  Being a millennial, the generation born between the years of 1980-2000, it’s not hard to observe our complete fascination with the ‘celebrity factor.’ Born into an era of prosperity, tee ball trophies and being told that we would be successful no matter what, our generation’s fixation on famous people, and more importantly, how much we are influenced by these famous people, is quite astounding.

Who are the most influential, motivating people in the world that drive many of the personal and professional decisions of the millennial generation? Feeling that I could not do the list complete justice with my singular perspective, I decided to collaborate with my peers like any good millennial would.  Over the past week, we surveyed over 40 millennial professionals through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, face-to-face discussions and personal emails.  The survey was simple enough – what 7 famous people most motivated them and what attributes did these famous people have that were the deciding factor in the millennial’s decision?  The results were a mixed bag of celebrities, politicians, activists and innovators.  I’d like to share the findings with you, coupled with my professional take on why these people made it into the Top 7.

#7) George Clooney:  Not only for his superb acting ability in Batman and Robin, but more because of his activism and outspoken altruism around Darfur.  Clooney embodies the good looking, well-spoken and thought-provoking person millennials aspire to be.

#6) Jon Stewart: With quick wit, counter-culture orientation and parodies of the well-established news organizations, Stewart provides the political acuteness that millennials look for.  The millennials want to be “in the know” and aware of their environment – they especially appreciate the use of sarcasm, glibness and humorous contrarian thought to prove a point.

#5) Mark Zuckerberg:  Innovation and tech was a huge indicator of millennial interest.  Zuckerberg shows millennials that you don’t have to wait to work your way up the corporate ladder or to earn your stripes (which millennials abhor), that success can be measured by one single idea going viral.

#4) Hillary Clinton:  Tenacious, woman-power and focused were words that came up with Clinton’s name.  Beating out her husband, but not by much, Hillary shows that a hard-working, smart woman can thrive in today’s world.

#3) Oprah Winfrey:  Winfrey is natural and genuinely motivating.  The millennials have a knack for quickly separating fake versus real, and Oprah seems to be on the latter side of that equation.  Through her charity, compassion and humble upbringing, she is a person that can inspire this altruistic generation.

#2) Barack Obama:  History books will probably show this man to be one of the most influential figures of our generation throughout our many life-stages.  President Obama helped inspire a generation and put them to work by asking for their endorsement during his run for election.  He made this generation feel like they were part of the solution, that they too had stock in the future of the U.S.  Embracing their technology, quick wit, and need for diversity, President Obama became an instant champion for the millennial generation


#1) Steve Jobs:  The founder of Apple has helped connect, empower and motivate the millennial generation to believe they are in the future, today.  One way to motivate the tech generation – be a tech innovator.  Millennials seem to also like Jobs’ hard work ethic, ambition, independence and ‘sticking it to the man’ attitude.  The man that asked us to “think different” and inspired our “inner rebel,” Jobs is the holy grail of cool, the exception to the rule, and the conductor of seamless integration. It’s not about just having great technology, it  is how it is applied and how it moves life, work and entertainment forward – Jobs does this, ever single time.


Other notable mentions: Bill and Melinda Gates, Don Draper (from Mad Men), Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, The Kennedy family, and Abraham Lincoln.

Interestingly, not one single character from the Jersey Shore was ever mentioned in over 250 names given.  From the list above and from my own deduction, this is a thoughtful, genuine, and multi-cultured generation that looks for strong values and fierce, tenacious people who drive progress forward. They also look for activists, celebrities and politicians who have noble intentions to change the world.  Sure, we like our Jersey Shore, our Facebook feed, and our Tracy-Morgan-30-Rock rants, but perhaps more for comic relief than actual emulation and motivation.  Put to the test and asked who actually motivates us, who embodies the larger-than-life-characters we can only hope to someday be, and the resounding answer is “the people who make the world a better place.”


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