Millennials Behind the Wheel: Are They Ready to Become Leaders?

Today’s workplace chooses leaders not by their age but by their skills, performance, and perspectives. Millennials are well-educated, outgoing, ambitious, mobile, and internationally diversified, rendering the view of them being the most selfish and demanding generation inaccurate.

According to the Robert Half report, 82% of respondents said that they were comfortable working with a supervisor who was younger. In fact, half of the millennials in the workforce hold leadership positions and 41% of them already have direct reports. If millennial workers were that bad, would they be leaders in the multigenerational workplace?

What to get ready for when Millennials are at the helm

  1. Work hard and enjoy flexibility. Working the 9-to-5 schedule is obsolete for millennials. They measure productivity not by the hours employees sit at their desk but by the actual results. They are proponents of fluid working hours and a possibility to work remotely. If you are at work, simply work smart and hard. Career advancement and your loyalty to a company won’t be measured just by your presence. Millennial leaders value work-life balance. Tim Hird, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources, says that for managers, it’s very important to offer their teams more freedom over where and when they work, as it improves job satisfaction and retention rates.
  1. Don’t be afraid of the hustle. Millennials are multitaskers but their attention span is less than that of a goldfish. They can continuously offer fresh ideas but these may be chaotic and lack focus since they don’t fully think them through or properly explain them to other employees. Eric Weiner, popular speaker and author, says that a little bit of chaos helps, and tension “is the mother of all invention.” Older generations can help their millennial managers by being the voice of reason. Through working together, they can set clear goals and define deadlines. Weiner emphasizes that an infinite source of ideas mixed with cooperation is what makes Silicon Valley special. Arvind Jay Dixit, CEO and founder of social-media platform Bubblews, explains what kind of hustle can be expected while working for a millennial boss: “Be flexible—you might be expected to jump into a variety of roles and do a wide variety of tasks. It might sound daunting, but it can pay real dividends for your career.”
  1. Know that they will hire for skills. Millennials strongly believe in talent over experience and want to be leaders in companies that empower employees to rise to the top quickly. For older generations, job interviews with millennials can seem offensive and controversial; their educational background and work experience are no longer a priority. Millennials support the skills over schools approach while sorting out candidates. They want to know what a person can do, the way they adapt to changes, their ability to think critically, their readiness to learn quickly, and whether they are the right cultural fit.
  1. Enjoy communication & collaboration loop. Millennials favor team dynamics. They love to collaborate on just about everything. If Generation X and Baby Boomers used to do the job on their own and isolate their bosses from the actual process and details, now they have to deal with Millennials’ need for regular updates. Real-time feedback, asking questions, continuous communication, and participation in decision-making is how the work will be done. Millennials need to know what is going on at every stage, and this micromanagement can irritate older generations.

How to help Millennials become good leaders

According to the Future Workplace study, 83% of respondents say they have millennial managers in their organization. However, nearly 50% of representatives of older generations believe that millennials lack the necessary skills to manage employees effectively.

These are four basic rules and guidelines to teach your millennial workers to make them effective leaders:

  1. Teach them to build trust with the people they are going to manage. The challenge millennial managers face is a lack of trust. Quite often, older team members doubt the ideas and suggestions their younger bosses offer. This situation creates a hurdle in the development of interpersonal relationships that ensures effective leadership. As long as there’s trust between team members, teams will be productive and efficient. Since Millennials value team dynamics and strive for ongoing communication, it will be easy for them to build trust and credibility with each of their team members. Using right tools such as gamification and social features to engage team members in co-learning and co-working will be crucial for companies to prepare for the upcoming changes.
  1. Provide hands-on experience in advance. Before giving the title of manager, teach millennials leadership skills. According to the 2015 Hartford Millennial Survey, 69% of millennials want to be leaders within the next five years. Moreover, 60% of them think that leadership training is crucial in the talent development process. Here’s how you can improve their leadership skills:
  • Let them lead a project. Meetings, discussions, a necessity to meet the deadlines, teamwork managementthis is a good way to provide relevant practical training without a formal promotion.
  • Let them coach others. All generations are diverse, and their representatives can learn a lot from each other. By coaching older generations, millennials will be able to better understand their needs and what makes them tick.
  • Let them develop solutions to challenges. Show that you trust your millennial workers in coming up with ways to solve important job-related issues. Their creative thinking and fresh point of view will be critical skills of a good leader.
  1. Ensure they recognize and value older employees. Peter Cappelli, professor of management at Pennsylvania University Wharton business school, emphasizes that millennial managers have to engage older employees as partners: “They need to recognize that their older subordinates have a great deal of expertise and understand that their job [as a manager] is not executing tasks, but setting direction.” Rashid Ajami, 26-year-old chief executive and co-founder of Campus Society, says that young leaders are not supposed to question older workers’ expertise. On the contrary, they should seek their advice to grow the business. Ajami lacked technical experience, which was why he hired a chief technology officer who helped to bring his vision to reality.

He knew first-hand the time, effort and technology needed in development. He knew how to work with the latest tech developments to ensure their platform was the best it could be and had the foundations it needed.

  1. Focus on continuous learning. Employees should see that their supervisors take care of their professional development. For example, older generations who may face challenges with technology application want to remain relevant in today’s digital world. Just-in-time training and microlearning can help them feel more comfortable and confident in what they do. They won’t deal with information overload and will be able to apply the learned material to practice right after completing a five-minute training task.


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