Why It’s Time to Move Millennials Into Leadership

The generation isn’t as thick with job-hoppers as the stereotype suggests, but a new study signals increasing impatience. Current leaders will need to do more to keep them around.

At this point, we should have collectively shaken off our millennial anxiety. Organizations recognize that younger workers aren’t just selfie-happy, narcissistic, promote-me-yesterday kids with an overblown sense of entitlement, but a generation that’s questioning which hierarchies are and aren’t meaningful to them. They’re fully entrenched in the workforce now, so the more meaningful question now is: How will millennials be empowered to take the next steps into leadership?

That’s a question that Amy Sewell of the fundraising firm Douglas Shaw & Associates asks in “How to Motivate Millennials to Become Nonprofit Leaders,” writing in Forbes. Millennials now represent the largest cohort of the U.S. workforce, she points out, and three-fourths of them say they look for jobs that give them a sense of purpose.

Forty-three percent of millennials say they’re likely to leave their job in the next two years, up from 38 percent.

And those younger employees are increasingly engaged in leadership positions, but they’re also souring on business culture: According to the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey, the past year has exposed “a stark mismatch between what millennials believe responsible businesses should achieve and what they perceive businesses’ actual priorities to be.” For instance, the percentage of respondents who agree that business leaders “are committed to helping improve society” nosedived from 62 to 47 percent.

In that increasingly jaded environment, the pressure is even more acute for leaders to think about creating opportunities for younger workers, not just to gain skills but to feel more engaged with an organization’s mission. A first step for executives, Sewell argues, is to model leadership for junior employees and provide support: “Show new employees how to prioritize, manage demands and handle conflict—be an example of healthy leadership,” she writes. “If the employees learning from you now are the future leaders of your organization, they need to see firsthand how to cope and handle these things.”

That includes giving those employees room to try out new ideas—and to occasionally fail with them, she writes. And that might be the most challenging hurdle for current leaders to overcome: to stop paying lip service to empowering millennials and actually giving them a chance to put their ideas into play.

“It’s wonderful to hear your CEO say, ‘Great idea. Let’s do it!’” Heba Mahmoud of the Association of Fundraising Professionals recently told Associations Now. “But how will you help me implement it? Take the time to talk through the idea with me and provide insight on how to achieve it. If you see that a project requires additional resources, as CEO you can make the investment.”

Deferring this engagement has consequences: It risks cutting the tenure of those ambitious employees short and does a number on everybody’s stress levels too. According to researcher Kathleen Kelly Janus, half of nonprofit employees feel “nearly or totally burned out,” a figure that’s higher among leaders “who tend to bear the weight of the organization on their shoulders.”

So, then, consider easing the weight. Last week, scholars Joseph Pistrui and Dimo Dimov wrote a piece for the Harvard Business Review with the provocative, clickbait-y headline “The Role of a Manager Has to Change in 5 Key Ways.” In truth, the two aren’t promoting radical shifts in behavior—or at least nothing more radical than asking leaders to become more collaborative and team-oriented.

“Too many managers micromanage,” they write. “They don’t delegate or let direct reports make decisions, and they needlessly monitor other people’s work. This tendency restricts employees’ ability to develop their thinking and decision making—exactly what is needed to help organizations remain competitive.”

Millennials were never as fickle as they were made out to be, but nowadays they’re more comfortable leaving a job that leaves them dissatisfied: 43 percent say they’re likely to leave their job in the next two years, a jump from 38 percent last year. The success of your organization depends on the stability that younger staffers provide—and the encouragement you give them to stick around.

How have you changed leadership and decision-making at your organization to include younger workers? Share your experiences in the comments.

(fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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