Millennials And The Future of Leadership Development

Millennials and the future of leadership development - People Development Network
Millennials and the future of leadership development - People Development Network

Millennials and the future of leadership

There’s been a lot of talk about how the Millennials are changing workplace trends.  Now they are beginning to take on leadership positions too. As Millennials take on more leadership positions, not only will there be a shift in leadership trends, there will be a shift in the needs of leadership development as well. Millennials and the future of leadership mean we need to be considering how to prepare for the changing needs in leadership development.

Make new leadership trends,
but keep the old.
One is silver,
the other is gold.

In the future, two important topics in leadership development will change. However, two important topics will remain the same. As Millennial leaders look for development, there will be a new focus on resilience and creativity and continued focus on communication and balance.


Factors that will change for millennials

1. Resilience

By and large, Millennials are a product of helicopter parenting. They’ve been protected and praised more than any previous generation. As a result, they have not built calluses to get them through hard times and to help them overcome obstacles and bounce back from failures. As leaders, they will need to take greater risks that have bigger consequences than they are comfortable with. They will need to be able to persevere and lead others through challenges. They need to stay positive when others are criticizing them. Also, they need to learn from their mistakes to achieve results. Because Millennials have been shielded from pain, discomfort, and criticism by their parents, building resilience will become a critical component of leadership development programs of the future.

2. Creativity

Millennials have been raised in highly structured environments. Multiple-choice tests, enrichment classes, and coached athletic teams have replaced essay writing, creative playtime, and unsupervised pickup games in the park. As leaders, Millennials haven’t experienced the need to develop resourcefulness and haven’t had the time to generate creative ideas on their own. They are used to structured programs where they are instructed on how to produce the right result. They are not as accustomed to thinking, analyzing, and following their curiosity. Not only are they less familiar with being creative, but they may also need help in fostering creativity in others as well. Leadership Development in the future will focus on developing creativity and reducing structure as a means to foster creativity in self and others.

Factors that will stay the same for millennials

3. Communication

Leaders have always needed to develop good communication skills. This will remain true, but even more so, because of technology. Millennials have grown up chatting more with their thumbs than with their voices. While they are dexterous with communication technology, they have had less experience developing the art of communication. This is true for writing skills as well as oral ones. While Millennials like to collaborate, they are not necessarily skilled at diplomacy, negotiation, and relationship building. These will be areas that leadership development will need to focus on in the future.

4. Balance

Work-life balance has been an issue for leaders for a long time now. It is even more central for Millennials. They value balance more than previous generations but they also may be less experienced in achieving it. As children, they were corralled from activity to activity and they took on so many academic challenges that they barely had enough time to sleep. Burnout has become a bigger problem for the Millennial generation and it is surfacing at younger ages than previously. Developing effective techniques to incorporate downtime, healthy eating, exercise, and personal time into leaders’ schedules will be an important development need of the future.

Millennials have been trained in leadership since young ages, at leadership camps and in programs at school. They know a lot about leadership in theory. But real-life leadership takes more creativity and grit than structured simulations. Leaders also have to be sophisticated communicators and need to be able to stay balanced to stay strong for the long haul. Leaders of the future will not be fundamentally different from leaders of today, but they will need development in specific areas to maximize their effectiveness. Some of those areas are new and different, and others are the same.

Joanie Connell
Joanie Connell, Ph.D., is an organizational consultant and career coach at Flexible Work Solutions. She is also the author of "Flying without a Helicopter: How to Prepare Young People for Work and Life."
Joanie Connell

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Joanie Connell


  • anothermillennial says:

    It is unfortunate that another “experienced” professional is writing their opinions on the origins and states of millennial capabilities as leaders based, not in data, but in the flighty fancy of their anecdotal observations based on predisposed supposition.

    On the topic of resilience, I regularly hear the criticism of a generation above me that believes since my parents supported my skills and interests, I must not be resilient to criticism. As a professional who has worked with youth for the better part of a decade, I can assure you that there’s good news! You needn’t worry: millennials are as bullied, belittled, abused, and criticized as ever before! There are still plenty of social pressures, addictions, domestic abuse cases, busy children’s aid societies, and ignored mental health needs to go around! So rejoice, my fellow, yet older colleagues!

    It just tends to be a little more passive-aggressive than it used to be. (This article is an excellent anecdote to that point!) While the older generation has had the luxury of a largely resilient economy, the millennials have faced a top-heavy, baby-boomer occupied business world at some of the worst unemployment rates, especially among youth, in the last half century!

    So see, a strange thing happened… I was lucky to have supportive parents, and they encouraged me to try new things so long as I tried my best. And yes, I got a ton of encouragement. But you know what? I did not grow up thinking I was good at everything like you suppose we millennials must do. I eventually found my niche. I gravitated to the skills I could master, and naturally moved away from the ones I could not. The difference is that I was confident to fail because I knew no matter what I did, my parents would be proud of my effort, even if there was no achievement. (I’m still not afraid of failure. I think it allows me to learn from my mistakes better. Unlike some of my older colleagues, I don’t feel like I need to make excuses.)

    Yes, there are plenty of things we millennials have as strengths and especially weaknesses as every generation before have and every one to come will have, but people who write articles like this rarely seem to hit the mark.

    But data be damned, I suppose.

    On the topic of creativity, I’m confused in particular about everything related to recreation you’ve written about, which unfortunately you’ve felt is the primary supporting thesis to your miniature write-up. I am a coach, former university athlete, and I have a degree in physical education. I grew up playing pick up games of soccer, baseball, and road hockey with all the neighborhood kids. We also made up games of Kick-the-Can, Spotlight at night, and on rainy days, we played board games. Heck, I remember one time, a bunch of friends of mine got together and we made up a dance routine to the Lion King soundtrack and performed at my parent’s basement for the 11 audience members that attended! (It was probably just our own parents, but still!)

    We also had video games. We were able to explore new worlds, appreciate music in ways we’d never thought of before, and aspire to be heroes in our own separate play! Most parents know how to “helicopter” their way into limiting screen time while encouraging us to try new things to the best of our abilities.

    You also commented on our inability to write essays as a sign of the times. Perhaps I’m not a strong writer. Perhaps I lack the ability to convey intelligent thought on paper or text. I can promise you one thing, however… I do understand the importance of accuracy and research in an ever changing digital world of habitual fact checking. Something I think this article needs dearly.

    You also mentioned that millennials are not accustomed to analyzing, thinking, or following our curiosity. Here’s the thing according to many studies, of particular note, a study on the entrepreneurial mindset of millennials… Only 13% of millennials dream of climbing the same old corporate ladder to the top. Over two-thirds aspire to starting their own business. Millennials largely see chaos and harbor distrust in the current way of conducting business, and they are constantly mindful of ways to change and adapt. Over 50% prefer to meet in person as opposed to over the phone or by email (a stark contrast from the days of cold-calls). Over 77% believe flexible work hours makes sense to business (and studies in some Scandinavian countries prove that to be the case) despite over 31% of them realizing that likely makes them seem lazy to the older generations. Millennials are more holistic in how they do business, seeing the importance of global change over making ends meet. An overwhelming majority of new, innovative, international technological business is started by, you guessed it…. MILLENNIALS! In fact, millennials are more than twice as likely to create a new business, product, or service, than their baby boomer predecessors.

    But sure… we’re less creative. Facts be damned, right?

    On communication, “chatting more with their thumbs than with their voices”. Now we are entering the realm of willful ignorance. I just mentioned above that over half of millennials prefer face-to-face communication over anything internet related, let alone over the phone. In case you aren’t aware of other psycho-social statistics, that is more than the number of extroverted personality types that it would be a given for. And it crushes the old perception of the importance of a cold-call.

    I’m not sure why you believe millennials are not skilled in negotiation or relationship building. I can promise you people like me would absolutely be hostile toward a passive-aggressive attitude like the one portrayed in this article, but sometimes ignorance needs to be addressed. Over 98% of millennials in business believe that synergy is mandatory. They believe that building strong, personal relationships with partners in a way that fosters trust, follow-through, reliability, and honesty are what the future needs. Did you realize that it is the baby-boomer generation that has fostered the idea of negative negotiation that we are now trying to demolish? “Negotiation” in the minds of most baby-boomers, based on how business has been conducted, is all about getting as much for me, myself, and I than it is about collaboration. Millennials believe that negotiation involves an agreement that cares for their partner’s success and vice versa.

    But facts be damned. Lets just assume we know based on the opinions formed by our bias and assumptions. I know it likely comes from a place of assumed insult or what you believe to be “privilege”. But be honest… it more than likely comes from a place of, perhaps unknown or unacknowledged, resentment you’ve harbored because a millennial didn’t buy into what your “years of experience” has clearly taught you. After all, you must know better.

    I agree with you only on the area of balance. Millennials are hard workers with incredible access to any interest that may crop up. What I find encouraging is that millennials largely recognize the importance of work/life balance and want to fix that. They are also hyper-aware of mental health concerns. I don’t believe the society left to us is one that is currently capable of handling what millennials have to offer, but that change will happen. It’s the resistance to that change, even though it’s well-meaning, that spurns articles like this one. In an increasingly entrepreneurial world that is establishing it’s own, brand new psycho-social issues and concerns aside the new successes and constantly evolving norms, the old ways of thinking are starting to be less relevant when you cling to them in their entirety.

    You -must- learn to incorporate the values of the past that can grow with the future. The role of the baby-boomers now is not to complain about the future millennials are taking the world. It’s role is to teach the softer values of respect for others, the art of active listening, skills like patience and knowing when to be quiet, and the many, many other skills unique or mastered by their respective generations. The role is to support and promote the direction they’re taking. Not complain.

    I guess in short, I’m not really sure what the takeaway is here. I saw the title of the article and decided to read it thinking it would give some insight on useful professional development issues, techniques, or information sessions that would be helpful for me and my colleagues. (I constantly want to improve, and while I’m confident in my abilities, I do not feel like I am close to achieving my potential nor close to learning what I need to get to where I want to be.) But instead, I came across a passive-aggressive attempt to ineffectively vent about your frustrations with an entire generation of people that will make up close to 80% of the workforce in fewer than 10 years from now! It was full of opinions and inaccuracies that completely contradict sound psychological research. It just reinforces negativity people feel toward us. It doesn’t help anyone except for people wanting to feel better about their opinions.

    I’m sorry if that isn’t a helicopter-mom form of a supportive “great article” comment. Fortunately, the one thing I have learned from your article is that you are supposedly used to criticism and can handle being told you’re wrong or not good at what you do. I trust you genuinely feel that way, else you’d have never said it. So in the spirit of your self-celebrated honesty, I hope I have helped.

  • anothermillennial says:

    Also, millennials will have a hard time handling this site’s inability to format their comments. It’s terrible that I can’t space out my paragraphs. You should probably find a creative millennial to help with that.

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