Millennials: How Gen Y Will Lead Us Into the Future

Leadership must be important — more than 20,000 books and thousands of articles have been written about the critical elements of and the impact it has on people, organizations and countries, if not the world.

In my article in The Financial Post I show that although leadership training programs abound, they have failed to produce good leaders. We can add to this problem the fact that the next generation of leaders, Gen Y or Millennials, have vastly different expectations for leaders and how they want to be trained as future leaders.

Virtuali, a leadership training firm and consultancy, and, a research and advisory membership portal servicing forward-thinking HR professionals, announced the results of a new survey entitled “The Millennial Leadership Study”. Following a national survey of 412 millennials, the study found that 91% of Millennials aspire to be a leader and out of that, 52% were women. Almost half of Millennials define leadership as “empowering others to succeed” and when asked what their biggest motivator was to be a leader, 43% said “empowering others”, while only 5% said money and 1% said power. When asked about the type of leader they aspire to be, 63% chose “transformational”, which means they seek to challenge and inspire their followers with a sense of purpose and excitement.

Other findings in the survey:

  • 55% of Millennials said that the most important leadership skill is the ability to build relationships, which 66% said was one of their strongest skills;
  • Millennials want to learn online and have mentors. When asked what type of training would be most effective for their development as a leader, 68% said online classes and 53% said mentoring. Only 4% of Millennials said University courses;
  • Millennials prefer to have fewer managers. 83% of Millennials said they would prefer to work for a company with fewer layers of management.
  • Millennials say that the biggest problems with their company’s leaders is their ability to develop others (39%) and communication (50%).

Sean Graber, Co-Founder and CEO of Virtuali said: “Millennials embody the shift in today’s workplace. They are motivated by a desire to transform themselves, their colleagues, and the world around them. This study confirms that Millennials respond and aspire to this type of transformational leadership. If companies want to build engaged and productive workforces, they will need to find a way to tap into the Millennial outlook.”

Dan Schawbel, founder of says: “This study confirms that Millennials choose to empower others over making money or being recognized.” Schawbel goes on to say in my interview with him that “Millennials want companies to give back to society and make a difference instead of just making a profit. They aren’t fond of the command and control “autocratic” leadership style of boomers and want to encourage others to succeed.” When asked the question of the bottom-line for companies, Schawbel contends “Millennials want to align themselves with companies that have shared values. If a company can’t communicate how it benefits society, then it’s going to have trouble engaging Millennials. Millennial workers are most engaged when they are doing work that has meaning.”

The Virtuali study is in alignment with other studies on Millennials and leadership.

A report fby the  Center For Creative Leadership (CCL) by Jennifer Deal and Regina Eckert dispelled some myths about Millennials including: they care more for compensation than previous generations; they are disrespectful of authority; and they aren’t loyal, showing the data does not support those myths. The report underscored the importance of firms find cost-effective ways to train Millennials, particularly through the use of technology. The report also emphasized the importance of coaching and mentoring for Millennials, which provides opportunities for face-to-face personal growth.

Josh Bersin, writing in Forbes,reviewed a global study by Deloitte  on Millennials. Among the conclusions Bersin provides are the following:

  • “Millennials want leadership and they want it their way;”
  • Millennials desperately want to acquire leadership skills;
  • Millennials value an “open, transparent and inclusive leadership style;”
  • Millennials want rapid career growth;Millennials “thrive on fairness and performance-based appraisal, not tenure.”

Bersin concludes his article : “It’s clear from our work with many companies that things need to change…Today’s Millennials will definitely rule the world. Our job now is to make our organizations ready, so they can slip right into place and help us lead our businesses in their own special way.”

Mara Swan, executive vice president of global strategy at human resources consultancy ManpowerGroup, said Gen Y’s perceived skepticism toward traditional corporate structures should make them more democratic in their approach as leaders. Dropping command-and-control leadership models in favor of more collaborative, collective organizational reporting orders is likely to be a defining hallmark.

“It’s going to be much more horizontal,” Swan said. “They don’t think of power as being something to warrant; they think about sharing it.” With respect to leadership development “We have to stop one-way learning,” said ManpowerGroup’s Swan. “You have to talk about what you want them to do, and you have to let them experience it and teach each other. The instructor has to move from an instructor to a facilitator of learning, and it has to be very experiential. I also think learning has to be tied to the purpose of the company vs. the task you’re trying to teach.”

The Millennial Compass Report completed by the MLS Group and the Ashbridge Business School in the U.K. entitled “Truths About the 30-and-under Generation in the Workplace,” concluded  Millennials “are focused on achieving through personal networks and technology; having good work-life balance; and getting high levels of support from their managers. They don’t want to be tied to an organization, a timetable, or a hierarchy, and they’d rather avoid the stress they see their senior leaders shouldering.”

These reports show Millennials’ different attitudes and expectations towards work and careers compared to the current dominant Baby Boomers. Also clear is Millennials’ definition of loyalty to the organization and expectations for frequent career or job changes. Millennials have a very different perspective and expectation of the role and behavior of managers, seeing them more in an encouraging, coaching, and peer capacity, something that is currently at odds with the current generation of Baby Boomer managers who see their role as one associated more with power and position.

I’ve had the opportunity to coach and consult current leaders of organizations, most of whom are Baby Boomers, and a significant number of them express frustration and concern with Milllennials, because they don’t share the same perspectives about work and life. The realistic current leaders, who understand that Millennials will soon make up between 50-75% of the workforce, are changing and adapting their workplace processes and structures to not just accommodate the new generation, but harness Millennials’ passion for innovation and technology and more collaborative leadership style.

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