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.

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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.”