Millennials are the future. By 2025 they will comprise well over half of the American workforce. By then, the youngest of the Baby Boomers will be over 60, and the oldest will be almost 80. As the Baby Boomers retire, Generation X and the Millennials will naturally take on leadership roles.
Corporations, universities, and non-profits are all struggling with the concept of Millennial leaders. Born between about 1979 and 1999, the first of the Millennials are now in their mid-30s and many of them have embraced leadership roles. Mark Zuckerberg leads Facebook, along with a variety of other organizations. Priyanka Chopra is an Indian actress who was appointed as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Child Rights in 2010 and also founded the production company Purple Pebble Pictures (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priyanka_Chopra). So, we have Millennial leader archetypes, but what we don’t know is the extent to which they adapted to and adopted more traditional leadership styles, or whether they are redefining leadership. Since there is a great deal of variation across individual Millennials we also don’t know the extent to which successful Millennial leaders fit the commonly accepted Millennial stereotype. What we do know is that most Millennials are different from members of previous generations and we need to adapt to those differences.
As Millennials entered the workforce, Baby Boomers and members of Generation X constructed a Millennial Persona that embodied all of their perceived differences. The Millennial Persona is needy, selfish, entitled, and lacks the work ethic of the Baby Boomers. On the face of it, these people sound like terrible leadership material. These labels isolate them, as a group, and inhibit their empowerment. What you have to remember is that this persona ignores the positive aspects of Millennials and tends to exaggerate the negatives. Millennials are ambitious, energetic, well-educated, and work well in teams. As we develop Millennials into leaders, we must accept that they are different, focus on their strengths, and adapt where necessary.
Based on what we have learned about the Millennial Generation, we can make some predictions. Millennials are ambitious and welcome opportunities to lead and innovate. They will compete with Gen X for leadership roles. They seek work/life balance, so as leaders they attempt to accommodate life outside work, devising more flexible schedules and supporting self-improvement. They work well in teams, so their organizations will promote teamwork and have a sense of shared purpose. Millennials also tend to be less formal, resulting in relaxed dress codes and flatter hierarchies. They are the best educated and most tech-savvy generation yet. Millennial-led organizations will employ greater levels of technology, leveraging that power.
Two other aspects of Millennial leaders will be reflected in their organizations. Millennials are the most diverse and inclusive generation yet, and they are also motivated by social justice and environmental issues. Millennial-led organizations should develop into great corporate citizens, welcoming diversity and conscious of their impact on the world around them.
The challenge for the rest of us is to develop and incorporate this latest generation into future leadership.
The challenge for Millennial leaders is to adapt where necessary and develop effective competitive strategies based on their unique perspective on the world.
While there are different ways to meet these challenges, they all require firms to adapt policies and structures. According to Yvonne Harris, with Capgemini, one of the world’s foremost providers of consulting, technology, outsourcing services, and local professional services, they have an Employee Resource Group (ERG) dedicated to Millennials. The Millennial Innovation Council (MIC) is an ERG with the purpose of encouraging collaboration across generations by providing a community for Millennials to innovate, create, and lead at Capgemini. MIC builds this community through local events and national projects that encourage coast-to-coast collaboration.
Alongside Generation X, Millennials will be our future leaders. Firms that hire, or create, and nurture Millennial leaders will have strategic advantages in the years to come.