How Millennials Are Redefining Leadership

After our look at Millennials’ values and their outlook in my most recent post, I’d like to zoom in on the next generation’s thoughts on leadership. What sort of leaders does Generation Y value in the workplace? And what sort of leaders are Millennials becoming as they experience their 30s?

Right now, there seems to be a lot of concern regarding an impending leadership gap, something that’s embedded in the population numbers. As the Baby Boomers retire, because Generation X isn’t large enough to meet the need, Millennials may be required to answer the call. This would also imply, statistically, that our workforce’s leadership will be more strongly multigenerational than ever before.

Of course, this transition is already underway. Alexandra Levit, who conducted Deloitte’s 2014 Millennial Survey, reported that half of the study’s respondents already had management roles; more than 40 percent had four or more direct reports. And, according to a 2013 survey by EY, 87 percent of Generation Y managers surveyed had moved into their roles between 2008 and 2013, versus 38 percent of Gen X and 19 percent of Baby Boomers.

Do Millennials want to lead?

Over the last decade, much was made of the Millennial generation’s distrust of institutions and its independent streak. But more recent surveys show that there is a strong interest among Millennial workers in taking on leadership roles.

Deloitte’s 2015 Millennial Survey found that 50 percent of respondents worldwide hoped to lead their current company and 60 percent aspired to the senior leadership team. However, this sentiment was strongest in developing nations (38 and 54 percent, respectively), and particularly in BRIC economies, where more than 70 percent have their sights set on the top role.

INSEAD’s Emerging Markets Institute conducted a very large global survey last yearand reported similar findings: 70 percent said becoming a manager or leader during their career was either “important” or “very important.”

What is the Millennials’ idea of leadership?

Several surveys in the past year have examined the traits that Millennials value in leadership and the kind of leaders they want to become.

Deloitte’s research confirmed the basic theme we’ve been hearing: Millennials want leaders focused on “soft” concerns such as well-being and employee development. Respondents’ top traits of “true leaders” were the ability to inspire, vision, decisiveness and passion. Only one in 10 felt that true leaders are solely focused on financial results.

Deloitte framed the question in an interesting way. In addition to asking what their priorities would be if they lead their own organization, Millennial respondents also identified what they think their current leadership’s priorities are. The only alignment was in “ensuring the future of the organization.” In all other areas, there was a 10 to 20 percent difference between Millennials’ top priorities (well-being and development of employees) and their perception of the senior leadership’s priorities (short-term profit and their own income).

In Virtuali’s 2014 report, Engaging Millennials Through Leadership DevelopmentU.S. Millennials placed similar emphasis on people-centered leadership, with communication, relationship-building and the ability to develop others being the top qualities. So-called “hard skills,” such as technical expertise and general business knowledge, ranked lowest. In a more recent Virtuali survey, 63 percent of Millennial respondents expressed the desire to be “transformational leaders who inspire others.”

Adapt and redefine

Whether or not it’s true, Deloitte has measured what it calls a “leadership gap” in whether global Millennials feel aligned with their current leadership. But to some degree, Millennials beliefs about leadership reflect long-term changes in organizational culture that aren’t unique to just their age group. But where today’s leaders have adapted, experimented and learned new ways to build organizations and foster talent, tomorrow’s leaders see that as central to the function of leadership.

And in part this reflects changes in the very definition of leadership. There’s an illuminating moment in the Virtuali 2014 survey, which (unlike the other studies we’ve looked at) used a broader definition of leadership and separated the cultural role from the formal management function. More than 70 percent identified themselves as leaders in their organizations, although fewer than half said they had a formal management role or title.

As organizations grow and recruit leaders of the future, global variation in this definition may be a bigger concern than intergenerational differences. As we’ve seen in my previous posts, the Millennials are a strongly global generation, who value the opportunity to work internationally. It’s not only large global enterprises that will need to navigate these differences in priority.

As organizational leaders, we all know we can’t foster leadership in a successful organization without constantly calibrating our culture and paying close attention to those key talents who have been empowered to define the culture of an enterprise on a day-to-day basis.

But make no mistake, the need to adapt doesn’t arise from some innate difference that makes Millennials alien to the rest of us. We should all be adapting to a broader set of priorities and beliefs about effective leaders. In this, the emphasis on relationships, purpose and personal development that are strong core beliefs among Millennial leaders can benefit us all.

This post originally appeared on Colliers Insights.

2019-10-02T18:46:18+00:00August 15th, 2015|Blog|