Evaluating the leadership potential of Millennials
Evaluating the leadership potential of Millennials
Brenda van Camp,
Founder & CEO, Upwardley
My mother used to say, “Don’t believe everything you read,” and she’s right when it comes to what is written about Millennials. You see, though I’m not a Millennial myself, they are “my people” as they make up the majority of Upwardley’s end users. So, I make it my business to understand them, whether that is by speaking to them directly or by reading everything I can find about them, whether it is a bone–dry academic paper, a research report or a blog post. However, more often than not, the authors have allowed their perspective and established beliefs and norms to get in the way, resulting in long rants that boil down to “they are different and challenge the status quo, and I don’t like it.”
Now, I’m no saint. I too have had my run-ins with some Millennial colleagues because their approach or attitude rubbed me the wrong way. However, I’ve come to realize that it is not because there is something wrong with Millennials but actually with us, the Gen X–ers and Baby Boomers who currently manage Millennials. You see, I think we quietly, maybe even subconsciously, envy the Millennials because they seem to have the guts to do, say and demand the things we’ve always dreamt of but did not dare do or say or ask. For example, Millennials are frequently derided for actively pursuing and safeguarding their work-life balance, but what is so wrong with that? I think we all agree that we work to live and not the other way around. So, are we perhaps just jealous that they have the self-confidence to create the life we wanted?I think we quietly, maybe even subconsciously, envy the Millennials because they seem to have the guts to do, say and demand the things we've always dreamt of but did not dare do or say or ask. Click To Tweet
Similarly, Millennials are regularly accused of being entitled – i.e., to be deserving of special treatment. Most of these complaints center around three common issues: They want feedback, they want to speak up, and they don’t want to do tedious work. Again, these are normal desires. Don’t we all want that too? So, are we perhaps just annoyed with them because they have the guts to take a stand, to demand to be heard rather than keep quiet, and to take an active role in pursuing happiness at work?
In summary, I’ve come to admire Millennials. Their beliefs and attitudes are simply a natural progression from the Gen X and Baby Boomer generation: each being a little more individualistic and non-conforming than the previous one.
Now, the reason for writing today’s post is not to write an “ode to Millennials” ;-). Instead, I’m writing this post because here at Upwardley we’re often asked ” Do Millennials have the qualities to become effective leaders?” and ” Do they have any “special needs” to get there?” So, below we’ll explore both the qualities that will help Millennials to become effective leaders as well as the qualities that may hinder them.
Three key qualities that will help Millennials to become effective leaders
Millennials grew up having their ideas and opinions listened to and respected by their parents, who treated them as equals. They weren’t told things like “Children should not be heard, just seen” or “Children should not speak unless spoken to.” This may all sound very indulgent to some of you, but the upside is that it has generated a very inclusive generation. They are a generation who deem it normal to consider everyone’s perspective, regardless of rank, which is a must-have mindset in this age of complex problems. No longer can leaders rely on their own experience and expertise. Instead, they require the input of people across disciplines and levels to find new solutions.
In today’s world, leaders increasingly have to lead people across distances, cultures, and timezones. Doing that successfully requires leaders to have a high sensitivity to cultural diversity among their people, customers, and vendors. Past generations could only develop this by spending extensive periods abroad. However, thanks mainly to social media, Millennials are the first globally connected generation, who are highly aware of and interested in the world outside of their own country. This international mindset will be a valuable building block for them as future leaders.Thanks mainly to social media, Millennials are highly aware of and interested in the world outside of their own country. This international mindset will be a valuable building block for them as future leaders. Click To Tweet
Innovative & Adaptable
Millennials grew up in this age of technology that has enabled all of us to do things easier and quicker than before. As a result, they have a very low tolerance for inefficiency or tedious work and will naturally look for ways to use technology to do things more efficiently. Moreover, as they have already experienced and adopted multiple new technologies in their lifetime, they are a generation that is not afraid of technical change. Quite the contrary, they are curious about it and keen to discover and explore how to use new technologies to their advantage.
Two qualities that may hinder Millennials to become effective leaders
Weakened face-to-face communication skills
It has been said that Millennials have been silenced by technology, as many Millennials nowadays rather text or email than talk. As one Millennial employee explained it to me recently, “I don’t like real-time conversations because I cannot edit my responses, and I also don’t like being challenged on the spot.” This causes a real challenge for Millennials who aspire to leadership roles, as you cannot lead via email, text, or social media. Real-time conversations are the lifeblood of leadership, whether it is to negotiate, give feedback, resolve conflict, or to inspire and motivate people. So this is a leadership capability that Millennials will have to double down on if they aspire to lead.You cannot lead via email, text, or social media. Real-time conversations are the lifeblood of leadership. So face-to-face communication is a leadership capability that Millennials will have to double down on if they aspire to lead. Click To Tweet
Millennials are highly team-oriented and dislike conflict, which is, well, lovely, but for the fact that conflict is an undeniable part of working in an organization. So while many Millennials might wish for a ‘conflict-free’ work environment, it is unrealistic and undesirable.
In fact, many of today’s most successful companies subscribe to the notion that you must combine the energy, ideas, and knowledge of diverse perspectives to find answers to complex problems. Such teams, composed of high-performing individuals, are naturally subject to contradictory tensions, like cooperation and rivalry, trust and vigilance. These tensions should not be managed away — they are productive and can help teams perform better.
So, aspiring Millennial leaders will have to overcome their fear of confrontation and develop the skills to engage with conflict in a productive way.
If you’re still reading this, then I hope that you’ll agree that Millennials have a lot going for them to become incredible leaders. Yes, they also have some significant challenges, but overall I have high expectations for these next-gen leaders and am excited to see how they will reshape leadership.
Note: This was the second installment of our 2-part series on Millennials & Leadership Development. Click here to read the first installment.
About the author
Brenda van Camp
Founder & CEO, Upwardley
Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.
Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time