Shake Up Your View Of Leadership
Some New Ground Rules For The Millennial Generation
Since starting NextGenLeaders eight years ago, we’ve had the privilege of working extensively with Millennials. At the onset, my assumption was that great leadership is great leadership, and that most of my favorite principles and models would have as much currency for Millennials as they do for Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers. Looking back, I’ve discovered that this has been partly true, and it has been gratifying to introduce a new generation to the practices of our field of organization and leadership development.
The part that didn’t line up; however, was the impact that the Millennial Generation is having on the world of 21st Century work. Not surprisingly, in the past eight years my view about what constitutes great leadership has evolved, and this is in large part influenced by my exposure to Millennials and by gaining a deeper understanding of the shifting values, priorities and nuances associated with this often maligned and highly influential generation.
NextGen Leadership Principles: Here’s what I’ve learned:
- There is no one magic formula for being a great leader. A prescriptive, trait-oriented view of leadership is not only passé; it has very limited credibility with Millennials. Millennials grew up in the ‘Free to Be You and Me’ and self-esteem era. They were repeatedly told by parents and teachers that they are winners, and can do and be anything. It’s not surprising therefore, that they have an expectation that leaders should come in all shapes and colours. The highly popular notion of ‘authentic leadership’ is an expression of this diversity, and need for leaders to be themselves.
- ‘Purpose Driven’ or ‘Gen Why’ are other popular terms to describe Millennials. Millennials have an optimistic view that leaders can do well by doing good. Organizations that provide opportunities for Millennials to do well (generate proﬁt) by doing good (creating positive social outcomes) are increasingly attracting the best and brightest talent. For Millennials it is not only about the destination; it’s also about the journey, and making every experience count. Leaders do this by finding their Great Work and leveraging their strengths and assets.
- As humans, leaders are always flawed. The flipside of the strengths-based movement and appreciative inquiry culture, is the need and ability to raise self-awareness about weaknesses and leadership risks. I have no fantasy that leaders are going to suddenly transform and turn their liabilities into assets. I have however, seen many leaders (from across different generations) find the right scaffolds and strategies for self-control and support. Humility is an appealing leadership attribute to Millennials. The best leaders I’ve worked with have figured out how to be whole leaders by leveraging their strengths, while addressing their cracks and flaws in an honest way.
- Leadership is a team sport. There has been a huge shift from a ‘follow-me’ mindset and view about leadership to a ‘work with me’ perspective. While collaboration is often tough, Millennials are doing a better job at it than prior generations. Learning how to lead teams and shift your social media profile from ‘friend’ to ‘manager’ status is full of hurdles; however, there is no question that collaborative leadership is the new norm.
- In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, where technical answers aren’t always good enough, Millennials need to use a ‘right vs. right’ mindset, and realize the power of adaptive leadership and integrative thinking. Professional and technical skills will only get you so far in dealing with the range of problems facing organizations and civil society. Frame bending and frame busting is part of the leader’s job, and Millennials need to embrace a new set of divergent problem solving and leadership methods. Leaders need to be provocative; it’s the source of lateral thinking and creativity. Since leadership is about mobilizing, inspiring, and engaging people about change, Millennials need to have the courage to challenge the status quo and push for innovation.
- Trust is at the heart of successful relationships and teams. Leaders need to trust others, even before they earn it. This may sound counter-intuitive; however, I’ve seen a significant shift over the past decade in this direction. I am not proscribing naive behaviour, or weak due diligence. Rather, my observation is that one of the positive attributes of our technology enabled, sharing economy is a leadership posture and identity based on trust.
- Stretch yourself and fall in love with discomfort. Brene Brown’s TED talk on the ‘Power of Vulnerability’ has had 24 Million hits for a good reason. Her message is speaking to a generation of emerging leaders that wants to reframe vulnerability and shame. Millennials want to redefine vulnerabilities as a source of potential strength, connection with others, feedback, humility, and learning.