New research reveals both similarities and differences in the way millennials and older generations approach the C-suite, as well as some misconceptions. It also gives cross-generational recommendations on how to ensure that millennials become successful leaders.
Millennials, as the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, are an interesting group to study. Researchers have concluded that they’re job hoppers and that they really like work-life balance, emphasis on the life. Fewer researchers have tackled the topic of millennials as leaders.
But a recently released report—“Divergent Views/Common Ground: The Leadership Perspectives of C-Suite Executives and Millennial Leaders” [PDF]—from The Conference Board, Development Dimensions International, and RW2 Enterprises does just this.
Based on interviews, surveys, and focus groups with millennial leaders, CEOs, and other non-millennial leaders at 14 organizations including American Express, the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America, and UPS, the report examines not only how millennials view leadership and their values but also their preferred development styles and the ways in which they will likely lead.
While millennials are already leaders at some businesses and organizations, the number of them moving into the C-suite is only going to increase over this next decade—making it even more important to understand the differences and similarities of current executives and those rising through the ranks.
“The research comes in the wake of an extensive, ongoing departure of Baby Boomers from the U.S. workforce. With each passing day, millennial leaders assume an increasing role in steering both the nation’s economy and the organizations that comprise it,” according to a press release from The Conference Board.
Some of the more surprising findings were the similarities. For instance, leaders across all generations agree that the biggest impediments to good leadership are arrogance and avoidance, and some of the most important leadership skills include engaging and inspiring their employees.
However, the research also brought to light key differences. Millennials think future leaders should place a higher importance on adroit interpersonal and interaction skills, while current CEOs feel the best future leaders are those with efficient decision-making and business acumen. In addition, millennial leaders favor informal employer-employee relationships and consider outcome-based accountability imperative to meeting goals.
The report highlighted some misconceptions as well. Chief among them was that millennials are dedicated to being disloyal job-hoppers. In fact, millennial leaders do want to stick with an organization, but they will move on if they aren’t growing professionally.
“In light of rising global competition and seismic demographic shifts, organizations must place a laser-like focus on cultivating their millennial leaders,” said Rebecca L. Ray, report coauthor and executive VP of knowledge organization at The Conference Board, in a press release. “Our new research provides insights to help realize the full potential of these rising stars, along with the organizations of which they will increasingly take the reins.”
To that end, the report includes a few recommendations on encouraging the growth of future millennial leaders, including figuring out how to keep them from leaving an organization because they think they need to do so in order to reach their highest leadership potential.
In addition, the report recommends starting or continuing conversations about the generational differences on ideas about what makes a good leader. “If organizations turn a blind eye in this area, both millennial leaders and CEOs will be frustrated with what top leaders become,” according to the press release. “Millennial leaders will develop themselves in a fashion that may contrast sharply with what today’s CEOs believe is important for successful leadership.”