Are Your Millennials Ready To Be Business Leaders?

Plenty has been written about leading millennials, but now they're in their 30s and assuming leadership positions. Older generations (Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the silent generation) may still think of some millennials as the new kids on the block, but the reality is some of these "kids" are already managers and will continue to play a major role in shaping the future of businesses and the marketplace.

The question is, is your business ready and willing to build millennial leaders? It's time to consider their perspective on the role of leadership and to adapt leadership training and development programs that take into account the unique needs of millennials, while being prepared for the generation that will follow.

Ditching the Symbolic Suit and Tie

For years, you've known the generation born from 1980 to 2000 will make up over half of the workforce by the year 2020. It's easy to continue thinking of them as entry-level employees, but the oldest millennials are 38 years old. They're already in leadership positions, and that trend will continue for decades. It begs some questions: Is their leadership style different than the leadership styles of previous generations? How does leadership training need to adapt?

In December 2014, published an article titled, "Millennial in Training" to address leadership development for a generation that produced people like Mark Zuckerberg. Recently, Zuckerberg testified before Congress, showing up in a suit and tie. There was a lot of shock, because he almost always wears t-shirts and hoodies. The suit and tie versus T-shirt and hoodie is symbolic of the differences that exist between generations.

Zuckerberg and other very successful millennial entrepreneurs have an enormous influence on how companies are organized and managed. Hierarchies, formal workshops, annual performance reviews, offices with walls and other organizational features embraced by baby boomers were challenged by millennials. The first truly digital native generation brought a desire to utilize technology in every way possible - to collaborate on projects with coworkers, network with external professionals, work from home, generate innovation, communicate with senior leaders and more. Gen X is the bridge generation linking older traditional baby boomers with the younger, status quo-busting millennials. Gen X embraced technology, dislikes being micromanaged, and is adaptable to change. Get X believes in work-life balance and diversity and inclusion as core values, all values passed on to millennials.

millennial business leader

Not Your "Boss"

The article points out several critical factors you should consider concerning millennial leaders. For example, millennials strongly believe in technology-based networking, so they may lack some skills needed to manage other people. They see themselves as collaborators and not as the "boss" of people. Using technology, millennials learn to build trust and credibility as contributors and innovators, but may lack direct employee engagement and delegation skills. Millennial leaders also need to develop skills for strategic planning, creating team alignment to reach goals, decision-making and interpersonal communication. Many traditional baby boomer leadership skills are still needed for business success. They simply need to be adapted to a continually changing, technology-based business environment.

Millennials Do Have Leadership Skills

Millennials can look at the status quo with new perspectives and leverage it for developing disruptive products and services or to improve operations. They're focused on helping people bring their whole selves to work, they care about work-life balance, and encourage people to work on a variety of diverse teams and on projects they are truly interested in. They're adept at using technology to network internally and externally. Millennials are also the most diverse workforce, making them more culturally sensitive and better prepared to lead a diverse, globalized workforce.

An American Express survey, "Redefining the C-Suite: Business the Millennial Way" intended on discovering whether millennials aspire to executive leadership positions. It found millennials have high business expectations and expect businesses to foster employee well-being with committed leadership and to give employees work with meaning. Millennials want to lead companies that share their values of fairness, teamwork, and empathy and have a genuine purpose. The survey also found that millennials believe successful businesses will need to be flexible, adaptive and avoid rigid structures. Also, 94 percent of those surveyed said it's important to invest in employee development, corporate strategy, meeting sales targets and executive education.

Balancing Soft and Hard Skills

Generally speaking, the businesses that understand how to leverage the best millennial leadership qualities are more likely to be innovators, less structured, more diverse and have an engaged workforce doing meaningful work. The businesses that don't develop millennials, in a way meaningful to the young leaders, will likely experience higher turnover rates, a lesser ability to problem solve and innovate and a more disengaged workforce.

Millennials want leadership development, but training your millennials to be leaders now requires new approaches. Millennials want less lecture and more self-directed or customized interactive web, video and eLearning options. They need training on relationship building, leveraging feedback, team building, talent management skills, career management and employee engagement, rather than training on doing particular tasks. How you train and develop millennials to become effective leaders will determine your business sustainability.

At one time, leadership was identified solely by factors like college degrees held, developed hard skills and longevity. That strategy is no longer effective. Some of the most successful millennials are not college graduates but can embrace technology for innovation and have high collaboration skills.

Soft skills are as important as hard skills and more difficult to teach. Identifying high potential millennial leadership talent requires the ability to find the people who have emotional intelligence and social awareness, flexibility, transparency and the ability to drive innovation through teamwork. Training and development then focus on enhancing those talents for personal and business gain. Your leaders, whether they be millennials or not, need to know how to manage a multigenerational and diverse organization. That is really the future of every workplace. 

If you haven't adapted your training and development efforts to meet the preferences and needs of millennials, so they can improve, connect, motivate and support employees as leaders, you are taking a big risk of finding an empty leadership pipeline in the future. 

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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