Leadership and Millennials

Generation X, also know as Millennials, are defined as the group of individuals born between 1980-2000 and are the largest group of employees in the workforce. (Hesselbien, 2015; Zemke, 1999, p.3; PwC, 2013; Deloitte, 2016). Much has been written of this new cohort of employees, both good and bad and now organizations are trying to understand the best methods for leading Millennials and the leadership talents Millennials possess. While some might be surprised to hear Millennials are already considered to be in the ranks of leadership, Millennials have started and/or are leading organizations deemed to be some of the best places to gain management experience including Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Dropbox, Airbnb, Tumblr, and Snapchap. But before looking at what type of leadership might appeal to Millennials, let us review what separates this group from its predecessors.

Millennials were raised in the founding era of positive psychology with rewards for participation rather than the prevailing mindset of “the winner takes all” (Graen & Grace, 2015). Access to advanced technology, having a diverse workforce and ensuring an adequate work/life balance are no longer consider perks. These are the necessities for Millennials when considering where they might apply for a job (Hood, 2016; Graen & Grace, 2015; Payton, 2015). This generation would go to Homecoming dances with a group of friends rather than with a specific date and grew up watching Friends as the stereotypical lifestyle when entering the workforce. Antibullying campaigns, legalization of same-sex marriage, medical/recreational marijuana, and gender-neutral bathrooms, all garnered significant headlines and media attention during the Millennial’s formative years in as much these are considered normal conversation topics or even common lifestyle choices.

Thus it is not surprising to find that such a group has a different approach and attitude toward leadership than those who grew up after WWII, during the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the Iran Hostage crisis. The Millennials were told they were special and had all the support, encouragement and positive reinforcement from Baby Boomer and “helicopter parents” (Piper, 2012, p.18) who wanted to give their kids the balanced and socially aware upbringing they protested for in the 60’s and 70’s.

Millennials value collaborative workplaces that are open to not only diversity of thought but diversity within the types of employees hired (Piper, 2012). While Millennials disdain hierarchy and control, preferring a more freewheeling environment, they are open to and welcoming of feedback, coaching, and mentoring that are viewed as contributing to skill development as opposed to management oversight or meddling. They value and expect a much higher degree of information sharing and transparency having grown up with instant access to information via the Internet. Their experience with technology is analogous to fish and water. Mobile and wireless technology are not something special. Technology is taken for granted and invisible and only becomes noticeable when their connection to the web and social media is absent. (Graen & Grace, 2015; Hinote & Sudvall, 2015; Rodriguez & Rodriguez, 2015). The positive reinforcements and collaborative experiences through group work in their primary, secondary, and tertiary
education along with the connectedness of social media makes Millennials strangely highly collaborative but also more autonomous. They want to work from home and do things on their own but can still be part of the group and involved in the social fabric of the office (Payton, 2015; Rodriguez & Rodriguez, 2015).

Others have said Millennials are more introspective and self-confident, they are less focused on material success then they are interested in making a difference and contributing. (Hesselbein, 2015; Murphy, 2012). Millennials value what they contribute over how long they work and are not wed to any one job or organization, having little interest or belief in employer-employee loyalty. The loyalty is to the immediate work experience, coworkers and the project as opposed to the company (Murphy, 2012; Shapero, 2013). One might say the Power-Distance gap for Millennials is shrinking with less formality between new employees and upper management and a greater expectation to be consulted and involved in decision-making. This goes along with the expectation of transparency, access to data and a strong sense of self-mentioned above.

Given this personal make-up, it is logical to ask what type of leader can lead Millennials and what types of leadership characteristics are Millennials likely to value?

Two leadership styles that we embrace in the Lewis Masters of Organizational Leadership program embrace seem particularly well matched to the Millennial workforce. Positive Leadership and Transformational Leadership are leadership styles that embrace a values-driven leadership approach and contain many of the traits or characteristics used to describe Millennials.

As one might expect Positive leadership focuses on building upon the positive as opposed to trying to fix the negative. Positive leadership relies upon optimism, and positive leaders demonstrate their beliefs by living their values. Positive leadership focuses on organizational and individual strengths looking to build upon capabilities rather than correcting weaknesses (Nahavandi, 2015). Positive leadership builds upon the ideas of self-actualization and human potential looking to overcome adversity by acting and thinking in ways that call upon utilizing what individuals and organizations do well (Nahavandi, 2015 p. 197). This type of management style has an affirmative bias which parallels the parenting styles discussed above with rewards for participation.

Transformational leaders build upon the idea that followers must be intellectually stimulated to connect with the leader and to engage with the organization. This style of leadership challenges followers intellectually and looks to empower employees to solve the problems themselves without micromanagement (Nahavandi, 2015, p. 190). Transformational leaders encourage individual and group creativity and independence. Such leaders look to develop the team by respecting and recognizing each individual’s uniqueness and special characteristics and understand how individual differences can build a team’s strength. And while Millennials might not value elitist Charisma over down-to-earth connections, the intense emotional bonds developed by transformational leaders further connect with the Millennial’s idea of erasing the formality in many hierarchical relationships.

Deloitte. (2016). The 2016 Deloitte millennial survey: Winning over the next generation of leaders. UK.

Graen, G. and Grace, M. (2015) ‘Positive Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Designing for Tech-Savvy, Optimistic, and Purposeful Millennial Professionals’ Company Cultures, Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 8(3), pp. 395–408. doi: 10.1017/iop.2015.57.

Hesselbein, F. (2015). The impact, the influence, the contribution of millennials. Leader To Leader, 2015(77), 5-6. doi:10.1002/ltl.20184

Hinote, S. C., & Sundvall, T. J., U.S.A.F. (2015). Leading millennials: An approach that works. Air & Space Power Journal, 29(1), 131-138. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.lewisu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1664838419?acc ountid=12073

Hood, D. (2016, August 1). The Millennial riddle; Tennessee’s LBMC is well on its way to solving this conundrum. Accounting Today, 30(8), 8. Retrieved from http://bi.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lewisu.edu/global/article/GALE%7CA459653589/e0a8c b904d1473b3be3e55ae70201401?u=uiuc_lewis

Nahavandi, A. (2015). The art and science of leadership. (7th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. ISBN: 978-0133546767.

Payton, F. C. (2015). Workplace Design: The Millennials Are Not Coming-They’re Here. Design Management Review, 26(1), 54-63. doi:10.1111/drev.10315

Piper, L.E., (2012). Generation Y in healthcare: Leading millennials in an era of reform. Frontiers of Health Services Management. Fall 29:1, 16-28.

PwC. (2013). PwC’s nextgen: A global generational study: Evolving talent strategy to match the new workforce reality. US. Authors: Finn, D., Donovan, A.

Rodriguez, A., Rodriguez, Y. (2015). Metaphors for today’s leadership: VUCA world, millennial and “cloud leaders”. Journal of Management Development (JMD), 34(7), pp. 854-866.

Shapero, M. A. (2013). Managing china’s millennials: Considerations for multinationals. International Journal of Business and Public Administration (IJBPA), 10(1), 23.

Zemke, R., Raines, C., Filipczak, B., NetLibrary, I., & Books24x7, I. (1999;2000;). Generations at work: Managing the clash of veterans, boomers, xers, and nexters in your workplace (First ed.). New York: AMACOM.

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