Are You Afraid of Millennials in Leadership Roles?

Kelly Morello


Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear Josh Bersin share his Predictions for 2017 at the Philadelphia Society of People and Strategy quarterly program.  He shared a number of forces that are disrupting change, including digital technology, the need to increase speed and the employee experience as well as how careers and social contracts are changing (think “gig” economy).  His presentation was full of great data that really grabbed my attention.  But one thing really stuck with me.  It was the topic of Prediction 8: The Leadership Market Will Start a Steady Process of Reinvention.  As he was talking about the need to promote younger leaders earlier, he referenced Mark Zuckerberg.

Mark Zuckerberg is 32 years old and running a $344 billion company.  Would he be in a leadership role in your company?

Wow.  That got my attention.  I’ve used Mark Zuckerberg as an example plenty of times…but in the opposite way.  Not everyone is going to be a Mark Zuckerberg and become CEO.  But Millennials aren’t all saying they want to be CEO.  They want to grow and learn.  And they want a coach to help them develop.  Forbes wrote a good article that highlights a few key desires of Millennials.  We criticize Millennials because they are the generation where everyone received a trophy.  But who gave them those trophies?  We did!  We created this expectation and now we are holding it against them.  They’re not asking for a trophy.  They are asking for feedback.  They are asking for development.  They are asking to be recognized when they contribute in a meaningful way.

Many of us know we are not developing leaders early enough.  But we’re stuck in the past, in the traditional way of developing leaders.  How many times have you said to that young worker that you need to “put in your time” and that promotion will come?  I know I was guilty of just that mentality when I was in my corporate HR role.  Yes, the younger generation needs to spend time in the workplace understanding the business and their role, but we shouldn’t relegate the challenging work, projects, etc. to those who have been around the block a time or two.  It’s those exact opportunities that develop leadership skills.  Millennials want to do new and interesting work.  They don’t want to be forced into working on just mundane tasks.  They are collaborative, innovative and inclusive.  They are more interested in the “gig” economy because it provides them the opportunities to grow and learn that they may not be getting at your company.  In an article that was published in Fortune a while ago:

This generation of young workers may have grown up in a digital world amid uncertainty and a shower of parental attention. But ultimately, they want the same thing that every employee wants: schedule control, meaningful work relationships, and choice of projects and learning opportunities.   

The world of work is changing.  Our companies need to be nimble and change with it.  We shouldn’t be afraid to promote younger workers.  We need to make sure they have the support and coaching needed to be successful.

As Josh Bersin reminded us, “leadership is learning by doing”. 

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