How to Bring Out the Best Millennial Leadership Skills

By Hannah L. Ubl, Lisa X. Walden, Debra Arbit

With a fresh new wave of leadership comes a brand new set of leadership skills. Millennials, like any generation, have many natural talents, some innate and some as a result of the conditions they grew up in. Unsurprisingly, they’ll be bringing their generational traits with them as captains of leadership. To get a grasp on where to focus your efforts as you groom the next batch of leaders, it’s helpful to understand the areas where they’ll knock it out of the park, where they’ll do just okay, and where they may fall short without your training and assistance.

While it’s natural to manage how you want to be managed, don’t try to make Millennials into mini versions of yourself. You’ll end up frustrated and potentially damage relationships if you try to force a square peg into a round hole. Instead, think of how you can focus on making the most of their unique talents, and grant them generational self-awareness so they can adjust appropriately in the areas where they may be lacking (especially when they manage other generations).

Where Millennials will shine

How do you bring out the best qualities of potential Millennial leaders? It’s up to you to find the best ways to highlight the following shining stars:

  • Collaborating: They’ll excel at building consensus across the team.
  • Coaching: More than being “bosses,” Millennials will embrace a compassionate leadership style that is carrot (not stick) centric.
  • Innovation/disruption: They will inspire their direct reports to think in new, unexpected ways and to take the road less travelled.
  • Accessibility: The work-life integration that Millennials so love will make them extremely accessible leaders both from a time perspective (always on) and from a communication perspective (no need for formality).
  • Customization: They understand the value of customization and will strive to cater their approach to each employee.
  • Open-mindedness: They’ll naturally create an inclusive environment because diversity in opinion will be just as important as diversity in employees.

“[Millennials have] seen a lot of change in the world and, as a result, we’re going to hopefully be pretty adaptable in our leadership positions. We also might be a little more open to change.” —Alexa S., Millennial

  • Employee-first mentality: Millennials value people above profit, and the welfare of their reports will be a high priority.
  • Holistic approach: They’ll focus on promoting employee well-being — physical, mental, and emotional health — because they know how it can impact the bottom line. Yes, that means treadmill desks near windows and meditation/yoga rooms at work.
  • Team building: Millennials value a strong team (#workfamily) and will make great efforts to promote the ties that bind across their reports.

Which generation will Millennials shine at managing? It shouldn’t come as a shock that Millennials will probably shine brightest when managing their own generation. There are many easy points of connection from a cultural standpoint, and they will share many of the same traits and values when it comes to the workplace and perceptions of work. Collaboration and feedback styles will be similar, and ideas around formality will likely align.

There is, however, a slight possibility that Millennials will get a taste of their own medicine. Managing one of their own could send them into a whirlwind of confusion. Thoughts of “Wow, this is harder than I thought” may cross their minds as they have to manage the stereotypes that are so often spread (and sometimes true!) about their own generation.

 

Where Millennials could coast

Millennials, like other generations, will earn a solid B-average in some areas of leadership. As their leader, find the right times to coach as necessary. Remember to focus more energy on the shining moments than the ones that will require too much energy to buff out.

  • Informality: A relaxed attitude with both dress and communication can make it a challenge for Millennials to earn respect from other generations.
  • Technology: While their technology savvy will generally be a big asset, other times it can demotivate those who find the reliance on it crippling, distracting, or alienating.
  • #workfamily: Having close, open, authentic relationships with direct reports may lead to some display of favoritism or the inability to give critical feedback when needed.
  • Communication: They love texts, IMs, and emails, but with some generations they’ll need to learn the importance of upping the face-to-face game.
  • Burnout management: Millennial managers will do their best to prevent burnout but may do a bad job of leading by example (for example, by not taking their vacation time or sending emails at all hours of the night).
  • Rewards: Influenced by their own generational lens, Millennials may initially struggle with giving rewards that appeal to each generation (rather than the ones they wish they’d received).

Which generation will Millennials be okay at managing? There are undoubtedly points of connection between Millennials and Boomers. Natural relationships will blossom because of the familiar generational dynamic, whether it’s aunt-niece, father-daughter, and so on. Additionally, both generations share an optimistic spirit and lean toward positivity. The areas that may give Boomers pause could be Millennials’ lack of formality in dress, communication, and general workplace etiquette, as well as eschewing, for the most part, a competitive work style.

Where Millennials might struggle

While it’s not a good idea to focus on Millennial weaknesses, you can’t turn a blind eye to the reality that Millennials won’t excel in all areas of leadership. To ensure that you bring out the best, don’t focus on the struggles but carry an awareness of what they may be so you can appropriately redirect.

  • Struggle to work independently: Collaborative work may be the Millennial go-to, but it could morph into a serious demotivation factor for some generations, primarily the hands-off Gen Xers.
  • Oversaturated feedback: The constant flow of feedback and check-ins that Millennials value may feel, to some, like micromanaging.
  • Democracy overload: Not all decisions can be made with group-think, and sometimes Millennials will need to just buckle down and make a decision without group consensus, uncomfortable as they may feel.
  • Earning respect: Older generations may feel some resentment toward a younger person managing them and will need Millennial managers to prove why they’re qualified for their position.

“The biggest [struggle] would be [that] now you’re in a place of power and you have to create boundaries with people who were once your friends. How do you get them to respect you?” —Lauren W., Millennial

  • Expecting immediacy: Because Millennials are always on, they’re going to expect speedy responses to communication, even if it’s sent at 11 p.m.
  • Discipline: Millennials lead with a friendly, good-cop approach, and it’s going to be extra hard for them to flip a switch and become the bad cop.

Which generation will Millennials struggle managing? Millennials will likely struggle the most when managing both Gen Xers and Gen Edgers. Xers raised their Gen Edge offspring to embody an independent spirit and to go for the win (not just the participation award). Millennials may have some hurdles to overcome when it comes to connecting with a generation much more practical, pragmatic, and direct than their own.