Not to freak you out, but millennials will soon rule the world. And each week we’ve discussed the fact that your ability to attract, develop and retain young leaders will make or break your company in the coming years, but we haven’t discussed millennials as leaders and how that will impact your organization.
I interviewed millennial workplace expert Lindsey Pollak, spokesperson for insurance and benefits company The Hartford’s My Tomorrow campaign, and author of “Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders,” to discuss findings from the Hartford’s Millennial Leadership Survey. Pollak had some good news to share: Millennials have the desire and the confidence to lead. You can teach someone how to email or leave a voicemail, but you can’t teach someone to want to be a leader, so this innate behavior is a plus. But she also shared some bad news: Millennials will lead regardless of whether they have the skills or ability to do so effectively. So where does that leave you? How can you make millennials better leaders? Pollak offers some tips below.
Let’s discuss, broadly, leadership. What does it mean to be a leader to a millennial?
Pollak: Millennials may define leadership a bit differently than previous generations. Someone who “motivates or influences others to reach a shared goal” is the top definition of a leader in The Hartford’s 2013 Millennial Leadership Survey. Also, millennials in the national survey said a leader mentors others to reach their personal achievements; achieves his or her personal goals; and effects change in the community. I’ve also observed that many millennials define themselves as leaders even if they are not in a traditional leadership position, such as a corporate manager, team coach or teacher. Leadership to them is just as much an internal, self-generated definition as a title or responsibility that one achieves.
Do millennials want to be leaders? How important is this to them when creating a career path?
Pollak: Many millennials are already acting as leaders in various aspects of their personal and professional communities. The Hartford’s surveyshowed 78 percent of millennials consider themselves a leader today. Here’s where they said they are leaders:
- Family and friends (64 percent),
- Personal interests or hobbies (50 percent),
- School (36 percent) and
- Business/workplace (35 percent).
Millennials show a strong desire to be leaders in the future. Seventy-three percent of those surveyed said they aspire to be a leader in the next five years whether they feel like leaders today.
In terms of their career paths, millennials have started to realize what they want, whether that’s at their current company or a future one. They are speaking up about what they would like to change in their jobs and what benefits they would like in order to be happier there. Millennials are really subscribing to the ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ mentality.
How is their leadership style perceived by their elders?
Pollak: Popular media is turning a corner from portraying Generation Y as “entitled,” “coddled” and “addicted to their smartphones” to presenting millennials as the only future leaders we have. In fact, millennials are taking on more and more leadership roles in business, government, family life and culture. And older generations are taking notice.
The Hartford’s research found 93 percent of baby boomers believe millennials bring new skills and ideas to the workplace. More and more companies are offering co-mentoring programs, in which two employees from different generations share knowledge and skills with each other. This can be a valuable way to take advantage of each other’s strengths.
To be the best leaders they can be, what kind of leadership development do millennial leaders need?
Pollak: Millennials often have the confidence to be leaders, but they lack some of the hard and soft skills needed to succeed. The first step is making it palatable to them to learn these competencies. Consider adapting training sessions in a way that will truly resonate with Gen Y.
In my experience, millennials respond best to development opportunities that are interactive, hands-on, tech savvy, and relevant to their jobs and lives. They often enjoy group activities, real-world case studies, games, and any opportunity to interact with high-level leaders, such as participating in a Q&A with a senior executive.
In terms of specific skills to master, my opinion is that millennials need both a primer in the basics of business, including communication, people management, and handling conflict. The training should include specific issues that millennials will face, such as managing a virtual team, handling a global workforce and business environment, and prioritizing in a 24/7/365 world.