Thinking Ahead – Millennial Leadership
January 20, 2016
Leadership is a hot topic today and will continue to be for a while. I don’t want to tell you the things that you already know, but make you think about the things you don’t. Let’s stop discussing trends, predictions, and statistics, and let’s focus on people. The individuals that will shape the next generation of leadership are not a group of millennials, they are a group of leaders just as the generation before them, and the many generations before them.
Currently, many of the millennial leaders that we see are not leaders at all, they are entrepreneurs and creators. They may operate in the leadership capacity, however from the beginning they have dictated the culture and path of their workforce. The leadership we all question will be those individuals that will take over an existing workforce of a 50+ year old organization. If we look here, we have little idea about how the next generation of leaders will operate.
As someone who has spent the last 6 months loosely looking at the dynamic of whether millennials will change industries or if industries will change millennials, I have finally come to the moment where I have to make the case of my findings. It is my belief that the question has no answer, because we cannot create that form of generalization in business. In any generation of leader we need to focus on individual people and how they will impact our businesses and industry, not groups.
Sometimes it takes a slew of data to bring us back to the obvious. Not unlike the presidential campaigns – the absurdity of the rhetoric posed by all candidates has reminded me, and hopefully you, that our world is based on moment to moment experiences, not generalizations and assumptions.
How do we find the next generation of leaders?
Answer: not placing them in a box and choosing the best from there. The leader who takes over Costco will not and should not come close to the personality or leadership style that will take over Lockheed Martin. It is dependent on the needs of the business, the needs of the employees, and the environment of the economy when the change in leadership occurs.
Does the leader understand the employee base?
One thing that I believe reigns true in all organizations is that successful leaders are not highlighted by expertise in their industry, they accentuate greatness when they are aligned with the culture of the people which drive the organization. Just because you have a young employee base does not mean you must have a young leader and vice versa, you must however have a leader that communicates effectively with the staff, on a level of trust and emotional intimacy. A 32 year old may be able to guide a team of boomers into the future, yet the same 32 year old may fail at guiding a team of 28 year old P.H.d’s to the following week. It is a matter of individual personality and communication style that will determine success – not sets of generational traits.
A concept that is well known, yet not published or practiced often is the idea of Adaptive Communication. One of my passions for years now has been the practice and teachings of this thinking. Put simply, adaptive communication is not about a singular message pushed to the masses, it is about continuity in many different messages pushed to the many different people within the masses. Great leadership is about understanding how to connect with various people, at various times. As a group, and as mentors, we must identify that we can say our message to everyone until our dying breathe, but unless our peers and others, interpret what we are saying the way we want them to, we might as well have not said our message once.
I believe this is going to be one of the tell signs of the next generation of leadership. As our global community becomes more connected, the communication methods must change (and I do not mean the channels through which communication happen). It is here that we must not only hope, but demand for our next generation of leaders to understand the need for adaptive communication in our organizations.
It’s not about what you say, it’s about what and how your audience hears it.
A Switch From Collaboration To Open Education
Something I have seen brewing in the young leader’s space, contrary to popular belief, is the desire to withhold IP. In a land filled with empty promises of “meaningful collaboration” it is not surprising that many see collaboration as a threat. I don’t fault this mindset, because I do not believe that collaboration is the way of the future. If we all constantly collaborated, we would create endless feedback loops that startles growth and lead us down rabbit holes.
What I see as the next generation of leadership “collaboration” is a more structured and opportunistic way to view open education. In Vonnegut’s Cats Cradle the idea that researchers should not be told what to research, but they should research what they find interesting, I think will be a theme throughout leadership. To have unlimited access to data and even better ways to share the information that we find interesting, will allow the next generation of leaders to create their own individual conclusions and redefine how we “work together” – on a more independent basis with collective knowledge. As the current practice of collaboration stands, we decide together what is “best” instead of what is “interesting”.
Millennials have been notoriously associated with the “do well by doing good” movement. This isn’t something anyone can truly deny, but I believe it is important to note how this will affect our businesses. I do not believe that companies today set out to destroy the environment or purposefully create negative social impacts, but our organizations today are not structured with social impact and responsibility as a driver of success. What we will see is the start of a reformation process that creates products and solutions that start from the necessity of good, and grow by the same methods used today. We need to remember that doing well by doing good is both from a social, and financial impact aspect.
In recent hiring trends, we see millennials taking lower incomes for more “meaningful” jobs. What the generation of millennial leaders is currently lacking are business savvy, financially minded individuals that create sustainable, growth providing, strategies. The root of these strategies can be within the realm of creating social impact, but must be executed with the same methods as today. It is yet to be seen whether the two will co-exist within this generation, or be balanced out and executed in iGen.
This is going to be a difficult thing to assess as we start going down the path of millennial leadership, however it is a necessary thing we as businesses must look at. This generation of leaders will know what they are worth and will be difficult to sway otherwise. If you want the best talent, and the best leadership, you will pay for it in either cash or in benefits, but either way, you must understand the individuals value proposition and pay accordingly. With a generation unafraid of change, if you do not consistently analyze and re-evaluate the compensation of millennial leaders, they will disappear.
Against popular belief, I do not believe that workers from this generation are not loyal or grateful – they are loyal to those who are loyal to them, and unafraid of significant change in their life. After speaking with many boomers it’s my opinion that much of their loyalty was simply out of fear of change and instability. Growing up in a world of instability, and seeing parents and friends be beaten down by the “system” has left little room for trust. That is typically going to be why these leaders will know their value, and not succumb to the outdated compensation levels. Pay them well, respect their value, and there will be no boundaries to the return they can provide.
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