In less than two years, Millennials will become the largest employee demographic. They’ve already become a major influence shaping the future of work, and as 10,000 Baby Boomers reach retirement age every day, they’re quickly advancing in the leadership ranks as well.
Millennials are quickly becoming the most present population in the workforce – and in leadership roles ,”all members of the Baby Boom generation” will have reached the retirement age of 65–with an average of 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching retirement age every day between now and then. By contrast, in 2014 millennials already represented a majority of the workforce, with more than half in management roles.
But they are not content to take up the leadership style that has preceded them. More than a third of millennials surveyed believed that within 10 years, “the CEO role will no longer be relevant in its current format.” This may stem from the fact that while 91% of millennials said they aspire to leadership roles, 83% would also prefer to work for companies with fewer layers of management – indicating that millennials are seeking out a less hierarchical approach to leadership. In this first of a three-part series, I’ll be exploring what leadership means to millennials and how that perspective is transforming the culture of work.
Evolution of the “Hero CEO” Archetype
Millennial leaders demonstrate little interest in the idea of an imposing, infallible CEO. They instead value traits of humility, openness and continual learning, promoting the importance of recognizing both your strengths and your weaknesses. The most notable change will be the way we approach and view leadership. Authoritarian leadership is out, and inclusive leadership is in. The emerging trend in leadership is a manager who directs, not commands. Long gone are the days when the boss can hold the role of a dictator, disconnected from the employees sitting somewhere in a corner office. Millennials even prefer the term leader rather than boss.
Millennials also want direct connections with leadership teams, from their reporting manager all the way up to the C-Suite. They believe that everyone in the company should be accessible, regardless of title or seniority. This more linear method of leadership goes a long way in building trust, loyalty, and dedication in Millennial employees.
Emphasis on collaboration and flexibility over hierarchy and structure
Millennial leaders are quick to question policy for policy’s sake. They expect both leaders and employees to be willing to examine and adjust policies that no longer appear to add value. Spotify, the Swedish music streaming company founded by Daniel Ek, structured their organization around this very principle. They are a fully agile company that began with a Scrum framework. As they expanded and grew, they found that some aspects of the Scrum framework weren’t working well for their company. So they eliminated them, and designed a new agile structure they called “Squads”.
Formal hierarchies and robust structure or process also appear limiting to millennial leaders. Flat organizations allow individuals to continuously explore, learn and grow, following non-traditional career paths through lateral or upward moves. About 75% of millennials said that a successful business “should be flexible and fluid in the face of volatile working environments and not enforce a rigid structure on employees.”
Collaboration across flat hierarchies also enables leaders to avoid losing familiarity with the challenges their employees across teams face, incorporating the thoughts and experiences beyond management into decision making. Spotify, again, serves as a strong example. They organize their “Squad” teams around the principles of autonomy, alignment, and collective ownership. Each Squad, comprised of less than eight members, is empowered to make decisions about what to build, how to build it, and how to work together during the build without relying on formal approvals from managers and committees.
Doubling down on servant leadership
Nearly 50% of millennials stated that they believed leadership is the empowerment of others. Meanwhile, only 10% cited legacy as a primary attraction of leadership, and only 5% said they sought out leadership roles for the financial gain. The ideals of collective leadership and empowerment of employees permeates the statements and actions of prominent millennial leaders. Peter Cashmore founded Mashable, the digital media company focused on tech, in the UK in 2005. He shares his perspective on the core skill core of leadership: “The talent that has to be learned is finding out what someone’s passion is and setting them up to realize that. You don’t get the best work from people if you’re guiding them versus them guiding themselves.”
Just as Gerard used his success at Elite Daily to focus on helping younger entrepreneurs, Michelle Phan, influential Youtube blogger and founder of beauty subscription box Ipsy, leveraged her influence to help others follow in her footsteps. Phan launched Ipsy open studios, a content creation platform that offers aspiring beauty vloggers free production resources to help foster developing future stars of the beauty industry. Brian D Evans did the same. As he describes, “I created Influencive to put all those missing pieces, all those secrets in my head in one place. And I attracted some other incredible entrepreneurs along the way to contribute their mind as well.”
Aligning work and life values
According to a Deloitte study, millennials “are transforming the status quo by seeking purpose in the organizations they serve without sacrificing the flexibility to be who they are at work and live a fulfilling life outside of it.” Millennial leaders build companies around personal passion and social purpose, and prioritize a positive work/life balance. As the line between work and personal life are blurred, the ability to connect company values to personal values becomes critical. Millennial leaders – and employees – prioritize social value over financial value. 81% say that a successful business “will have a genuine purpose that resonates with people.” In fact, recent research found that millennials were the most socially conscious generation since the 1960s.
Actress turned entrepreneur Jessica Alba created The Honest Company with the stated purpose of promoting ethical and non-toxic products. Phan cites her personal values as the core driver for her business success: “There is a lesson to focus on being happy and not on money. At the end of the day happiness will bring you real wealth that you can never buy…I knew I wanted to inspire women and build confidence, so everything was built around that goal.” Renowned investor Warren Buffet said of Chesky, “[Brian Chesky] feels it all the way through. I think he would be doing what he’s doing if he didn’t get paid a dime for it.” In fact, Chesky and his cofounders at Spotify were focused on values from the beginning – and the company still requires all interviewees to go through a set of “core values” interviews in addition to those specific to their role.
As millennials continue to take on more management and leadership roles, we can likely anticipate even greater visibility and permeation of these values, as expressed by millennials and demonstrated by their age’s entrepreneurs. In the next article of this series, I’ll explore what it means to groom and manage millennial leaders.
How can companies help Millennials grow as leaders?
1. Millennials Want Leadership and They Want it Their Way
The first, and most striking finding, is that millennials want leadership, and they want it their way. In fact they are less interested in running your company than running their own.
2. Millennials Value an Open, Transparent, Inclusive Leadership Style
Millennials grew up in glass houses. They are comfortable with transparency. They believe leadership should be the same.When asked what they look for in their leaders, they look for openness, inclusion, and diversity.
3. Millennials Demand Career Growth – And Lots of It
Millennials don’t only want to lead, they expect to grow rapidly in their career. They want to move rapidly, they want global assignments, they are willing to embark on short term assignments, and they want development.
4. Millennials Thrive on Fairness and Performance-Based Appraisal, not Tenure
young people today want to “work the lattice” and move around – they don’t want a five-year development plan to become a first line leader.
• Millennials believe in evaluating people based on performance, not tenure.
• “Role Clarity” is less important for young people than it may be for others. The boomers grew up in hierarchies where role and structure defined who they are. Millennials grew up in the world of social networking, where everyone is unique and special. They need a little less “role boundaries” and a lot more “project based roles” to help millennials grow. This type of dynamic, “project-based succession” is what organizations need to embrace.
5. Millennials Are Comfortable with Less Role Clarity and Less of a Manager-Led Career
Millennials don’t only want less structured jobs, they also feel less committed to a strong relationship with one manager. Young people believe to have open, honest managers. They are happy to operate in a culture where they get support from many mentors, not just “the man in the corner office.”
6. Millennials Thrive on Innovation and Change
Millennials enjoy working in organizations that are innovative, changing, and dynamic. Today’s young people grew up in a world where companies had layoffs – so they don’t always expect a lifelong career. This is not to say career employment is not of value, but you should position your organization as a great place to learn every day, experience new things, and see opportunities to work on lots of exciting projects during a career.
7. Tomorrow’s Leaders Will Change Our Organizations
It’s clear from our work with many companies that things need to change. The way we move people around, the way we appraise people, the types of rewards we provide (millennials thrive on recognition, not just pay), and how we think about careers all need to change.
Many of these changes throw sand in the gears of HR. Many HR organizations have built linear models for progression, career ladders, articulated job descriptions with competency models, and lots of practices for succession management. While all this work is valuable, we need to make it all more dynamic today.
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.
• Millennials Will Soon Rule The World: But How Will They Lead? (forbes.com)