Executive Coaching & Empowering Millennials

Photo by Catie Viox


Cory Carlson’s question for business leaders is: The millennials are here – what are you doing about it? How are you investing in the next generation of leaders?

Carlson, who left his corporate sales and marketing position two years ago to become an executive coach, reminds his clients that growth depends on empowering younger leaders.

“Millennials want to be part of a culture and company that is doing something bigger than the day-to-day of the business. Many millennials value purpose over paycheck,” Carlson says. “Leaders positioning their companies for future growth have identified the need to work with millennials and have figured out what drives, inspires and motivates them.”

Carlson is a certified coach with Five Capitals, established by Brandon Schaefer, which uses a faith-based approach to equip Christian business leaders and their families with the tools to live an integrated, transformative life.

Carlson is a firm believer that for work to thrive, home has to thrive.

“Leaders who are winning in their personal lives can then lead well at home, giving them the capacity to lead well at work. The two have to be connected.”

Carlson encourages clients to focus on a higher purpose for home and business, not get lost in the weeds. His approach also requires a humble client who comes to a coaching session willing to listen and with the courage to act.

“Great leaders have the humility to listen to God, continue to learn from others, even 30 years into their careers and even after years of company financial growth.”

That humility applies to understanding the millennial generation (usually defined by researchers as those born between 1980 and 1996), which Carlson feels can get a bad rap as the “hand-out generation,” stereotyped as difficult to manage.

Carlson believes that the Five Capitals executive leadership philosophy, focused on finding a transformative greater purpose to work and home, is a message that resonates with the millennial generation.

“Leader readiness is a sign of a healthy company, so smart executives are equipping young people with coaching, training and responsibility. They know they constantly need to cast vision, otherwise these younger employees will drift.”

Carlson recently sat down with three of his clients – Chris Hartenstein of Hartco and Heritage Bank executives Lytle Thomas and Christopher Caddell – who Carlson feels have become especially adept at millennial recruiting and development. They also discussed what they have gained from the executive coaching experience, and the importance of the home-work balance. Their conversations follow, edited for space and clarity.

Chris Hartenstein purchased Hartco from his father in 2000, growing the company to a leading manufacturer of cast and coated liquid polymers, found in everything from flooring to lining of footballs used in the NFL. Hartco is a faith-based business that even extends to the ministry established by Hartenstein, The New Frontier. The ministry is geared to building father-son relationships and helping men realize what manhood means, anchored by a series of retreats in Montana. In a unique business model, Hartco employees are also given the opportunity to work on ministry projects, including the Montana retreat, and other community initiatives.


Cory Carlson: I think millennials can catch a bad rap. How do you hire and train them, as well as shepherd them?

Chris Hartenstein: When we were going through a process of retooling Hartco, my thoughts were to hire vets from World War II, Vietnam, Iraq and others who understood what hard work and commitment meant. “I’ll take anything, but don’t give me millennials,” he joked, but those were the folks that came in for interviews.

Even though there are aspects of millennial culture we don’t love, I found they value being real. They value being honest. And this is who I am.

The first thing was hiring based on character, not competency. Instead of being a company just trying to make money, we wanted to build people and help build the Kingdom of the Father. Actually, we found the older generation didn’t really get that. But we found the millennials want to be a part of something good, something that makes a difference in a world they have grown disenchanted with. Their mindset is that they want significance way earlier in the game. My generation wanted to work and be successful, but then we discover that mere material success lacks significance.       

We reformulated the way we did compensation. A millennial would much rather have time off and have quality of life and care less about a bonus. So, we looked at how we compensate and we did things with them to help build community inside and outside of Hartco.

We have a generation of many fatherless young men, so I knew I had to have the role of a parent, a father. But not to treat them parentally. There were some basic things we instilled, like the importance of being on time, what a good day’s wage and work look like. I worked on defining things such as mission, identity and community within the corporation. They found that was compelling, and they liked having that kind of road map and vision.


Carlson: That’s one of the hardest parts of being a leader – to consistently cast vision.

Hartenstein: Each part of our mission revolves around something bigger than Hartco. Everybody comes out and serves in Montana and helps with Innkeeper Ministries. We may mow grass, clean toilets, paint, etc. In Montana, we built a deck, remove dead brush. Hartco always gave money to missions, but we wanted to get our hands dirty. The whole mission of Hartco captured their hearts. They saw the difference when they contributed. They owned it.


Carlson: With these changes, how has it affected employee retention?

Hartenstein: Of the current millennials we have, everyone’s been here longer than three years (70 percent of the 22 Hartco employees are under 35). That says a lot. I believe we were able to connect to the millennial heart and not just their head. I think that’s why we created a strong community with them. The millennial generation is asking, “Where do I belong?” When you create a place of belonging, they want to stay there.


Carlson: You’ve hired an executive coach. How has that changed your leadership?

Hartenstein: Coaching, for me, created an awareness of how I communicated. It was like having a mirror – how I do things and how I come across. As a leader, you carry weight that you don’t always know you carry. It’s like you don’t recognize your own strength. I didn’t recognize the force with which I came across. I understood how people feel the force of my leadership. That awareness was huge.


Carlson: Owners and CEOs can get in their own little world and think their way is the only way.

Hartenstein: We do. We get into our own group think in our head.

It helps to get good resources and frameworks from others. Coaching provided tools and created a way of thinking where I could begin to break it down into smaller segments before we executed something. It changes the way I thought about communicating and decision making.


Carlson: One of the reasons you are successful is because of your intentionality at home so that you can be proactive at work. What would you recommend to others as to how to win at home and at work?

Hartenstein: They both need to be healthy and strong. They both have to have the right levels of attention. I put some boundaries around work. I have a hard stop every day. If I need more work time I get up early. But at the end of the day, I leave stuff along the road and pick it up in the morning. I don’t believe God wants my family to suffer for the success of my business or ministry. Coaching helps with that balance. A good coach will tell you when you are really lopsided.


Cory Carlson, a certified coach with Five Capitals, can be reached at 720.301.8377 or cory@corymcarlson.com. For more information, visit corymcarlson.com