Millennials: A Generation of Natural Leaders?

Millennials tend to get a bad rap, but they are already responsible for reshaping the work environment. Learn why it's business critical for organizations to encourage and develop the leadership characteristics of their Millennial workforce.

I was recently at a family barbeque when my cousin, who is a senior executive at an insurance company and a fellow Gen Xer, pulled me aside. “What do I do about my Millennial problem?” he asked. “All of my Millennial employees want to advance without putting in their time and paying their dues. Just this past week, a Millennial employee who has been with the company for only a few months asked me point-blank when he could expect to be promoted! Can you believe that?”

Actually, I could believe it. But, I also wondered if there might be another way to look at my cousin’s “problem” and reconceptualize it as an opportunity for organizations.

Millennials tend to get a bad rap. Stereotypes abound about the Millennial generation: entitled, narcissistic, self-important, lazy, impatient, high maintenance, Generation Me.  A recent ManpowerGroup global study of 19,000 working Millennials vividly describes how they ARE different from previous generations but in positive ways: confidence in their careers, expectations regarding time in the workforce, and how they understand and define job security in a dynamic market.  
Right Management recently launched a point-of-view on what it takes to lead in the Human Age.  The P3 Leader Model provides an efficient framework—People, Purpose, Performance — to help organizations understand how employees interests, motivations, and values align with effective leadership enablers, capabilities, and outcomes.  
PEOPLE – Effective leadership enablers refer to the innate traits of a successful leader: adaptability, drive, endurance, and brightness. As digital natives, Millennials are highly comfortable dealing with an information-saturated, fast-paced, interconnected world in which technological innovations drive change. As a result, they are highly adaptable, able to respond quickly to new situations, and uniquely positioned to shepherd others through changing circumstances. When Millennials are engaged, they have the drive and desire to achieve, solve problems, and contribute in a meaningful way. As continuous learners, Millennials demonstrate the motivation to learn and know more about the world; and willingness to look at problems in different ways and ask, “what if?” – all characteristics of great leaders that organizations need today.
PURPOSE – Millennials tend to be much more purpose-driven and consider it imperative to understand how their work fits into an organization’s mission and strategic objectives. In fact, Millennials are more likely to leave an organization that lacks this sense of purpose. Creating an empowered and engaged workforce is also a priority for Millennials. When organizational cultures and leaders encourage professional growth and provide opportunities to broaden skills and knowledge, they increase the likelihood that their employees will remain engaged, committed, and productive. Millennial leaders walk their talk and are deeply committed to cultivating a more humane organizational culture in which trust, respect, diversity, and transparency are values that are lived throughout the organization.


PERFORMANCE –  Millennials may be the biggest champions of feedback. Asking for, giving, receiving, and acting upon feedback is second-nature to them. Taking such a high-touch approach enables Millennials to deepen engagement with their teams, colleagues, and other employees. Additionally, they place a premium on clear career pathing and opportunities to grow and further develop capabilities; they are in an excellent position to create a culture of learning within an organization, providing others opportunities to build their skills, knowledge, and capabilities and have meaningful careers. Building capability, sharing purpose, and championing collaboration are all characteristics that Millennials bring to the table to accelerate an organization’s performance. Hungry for challenge, highly collaborative, and driven to find meaning and purpose in their work, these individuals allow their organizations to perform at their best.

Finally, Millennials are already responsible for reshaping the work environment: they're pushing employers to adapt their systems and processes to become more efficient, effective and convenient. They demand greater flexibility where and how work is completed. Millennials have a strong track record of constructively challenging authority and the status quo; they are willing to experiment and find better ways of solving problems, and know how to learn from their mistakes. Their adaptability is a huge asset and allows them to evolve their approach to corporate leadership in response to technological innovation and the challenges of managing human capital. They have been daring to lead in these respects since they entered the workforce.
My answer to my cousin?  You don’t have a problem, you have an opportunity.  Millennials already possess many of the traits and characteristics required for effective leadership in the Human Age. Instead of viewing the unique attributes of Millennials as problems to be solved, agile organizations are quickly adapting and responding to the interests, concerns, and ideas raised by this generation. Harnessing the leadership capabilities of millennials and providing greater opportunities to them will help further develop this generation of born leaders. Helping to enable them will be critical for organizations that want to sustain high performance results and continually overcome the challenges of an increasingly unpredictable, ever-changing and complex world.  
Related Articles about Developing Millinnial Talent:
Five Keys to Attracting and Retaining High-Potential Millennial Talent
Career Expectations of Millennials and Why You Should Care
To Motivate Millennials, Go High-Touch for the High-Tech Crowd