Will millennials make good leaders?

Holly Edwards, Marketing Manager for Purple Cubed, explores the perception of leadership for Millennials

New ways of working, flat structures and innovative technologies have transformed the working landscape. The sheer number of millennials joining businesses – 50% of leadership positions are now occupied by those born between 1980 and 2000 – has meant organisations have had to turn traditional methods of working on their head in order to attract and retain the very best of this generation.

‘Command and control’ is not a language used by this cohort. For them it’s all about sharing; using technology to connect with peers in order to gain broader and deeper connections whilst creating evolution and working together cohesively. It therefore comes as no surprise that a recent study highlighted a ‘culture of collaboration‘ as one of the top things millennials are looking for in an employer.

This cultural desire has also created a new perception of leadership. CEO of millennial experts, Virtuali, Sean Graber explained:

“[Millennials] have a changing concept of leadership. They are much less interested in hierarchical leadership than something that is much more collaborative and cross-functional.”

As a result, less than 20% of this generation want to be leaders within large organisations, which they deem to be outmoded and full of industrial processes. Instead the vast majority wish to establish their own businesses; be their own leaders. At first this seems surprising, alarming even, however it is clear why they adopt this viewpoint. They’ve grown up in a world where vloggers become overnight sensations, extreme growth in hot tech companies resulting in the ‘millionaire millennial’ and have watched large corporations continually challenged, sometimes crumbling into decline or obscurity.

However, with 75% of the global workforce set to consist of the millennial generation by 2025, it’s vital we entice them back into the world of ‘employment’ and change their perception of leadership. To do so, it will be necessary to appeal to the things which make them tick; for example providing the freedom to build, innovate and create something that makes a true contribution and which they can ‘own’.

A few important points to consider…

  • Be open

Millennials have been brought up in a transparent world, and are comfortable with openness, collaboration and sharing. They have no qualms using their skills to actively seek out and share knowledge. This age group therefore expect leadership to be the same. Authentic leadership may sound like the current buzzword; though for millennials this is a very real requirement. Social media and corporate social networks such as blogs and wikis are increasingly popular amongst this generation. Use these to your advantage to help create a transparent and personal leadership approach. Remember, though to remain professional – photos of drunken nights out won’t work in every business, no matter how ‘cool’ you’re trying to appear to be.


  • Quench the thirst for knowledge

Millennials are renowned for being more impatient than their generational predecessors. Their short attention spans demand faster knowledge gain; a constant desire to learn and develop, both personally and for the betterment of their careers. So if their expectations in terms of their professional development are not met, they will move on to find an organisation which will. Overcome this by adopting a multitude of low-cost / no-cost learning techniques and encourage individuals to drive their own development. Use regular reviews and conversations to highlight areas of focus and then design individualised development plans which make use of job shadowing, taking the lead on cross-departmental projects, reading and self-study.

And as they love to share; consider getting them involved in reverse mentoring – where they teach their older peers new skills and knowledge. Not only do you boost capability across the workforce, you strengthen relationships and build loyalty between these very different generations.


  • Just one manager?

The recent Millennial Survey by Deloitte found that 61% of young people see current operational structures and procedures as barriers to innovation, and 63% feel the biggest barrier to innovation is management attitude. As a result, founder of Bersin by Deloitte – Josh Bersin – suggests that millennials are becoming less committed to a relationship with one manager, instead opting to build networks of people that they can work with, putting more emphasis on their need and desire for collaboration. This does not necessarily mean the doomsday bell of management has tolled, it merely suggests there is the opportunity to provide support and guidance via a range of individuals.  Leaders should therefore interact with and engage people in a cross-team way rather than in silos.

The way that Millennials lead and are going to lead will be very different to previous generations. It’s no longer about managing, but enabling people to driver their own course,  Make sure your organisation is going to be ready for them to lead in their own way.

2016-11-01T10:21:12+00:00 November 1st, 2016|