Leadership in the Millennial age

Leadership in a rapidly changing workplace can be daunting.  Richard Cowley decodes how workplaces are transforming, and shares valuable tips on leading in the Millennial age.

Leadership in the age of millennials

Leading people – whether as a Director, Manager, Team Leader, Supervisor or any other leadership title you have been given – is either a blessing or a nightmare. This depends on your perception, and the value you believe the impact has for your organisation and your career. I would encourage that you treat your leadership role as a blessing – a positive belief will drive a meaningful and fulfilling outcome!

In many ways, the past does predict the future. However, in the world of leadership and the workplace, there is only one belief that drives my daily actions – live in todays context, not yesterday’s. With this belief, I am armed to think and take actions that have a positive contribution.

In today’s context, one cannot ignore the Millennial generation, or Generation Y. Here are some ideas on how to build an effective and fulfilling workplace relationship with the Millennials. The starting point is to do a quick check of the relationships you have with your team: visualise that relationship as a bridge – is it wooden, steel, strong or falling to pieces? Without a strong foundation – which is your responsibility – you will not have a bridge that can stand strong at all times, under different pressures.

The workplace is upside down

Everywhere I look, the order or hierarchy of things is upside down in the workplace. Understanding and successfully transitioning to this changing world is critical to leading today – a few examples below:

Younger CEOs
Because of the increased contextual relevance, capability, resourcefulness, confidence and belief of Millennials, the accumulation of many years of knowledge and experience is no longer critical for career success. The CEOs are getting younger each day!

A quest for purpose
Maslow’s traditional hierarchy of motivational needs illustrates a path that an individual follows during their lifetime, with the pinnacle being self-actualization, i.e. to be fully alive and find meaning in life. Today, the Millennials are coming into the workplace later than in the past (due to extended education). When they enter the workforce, they are entering with this pinnacle as the starting point – this can build unattainable expectations for both sides.

Outcomes versus relationships
Traditionally, developing leaders was based on a structured approach over time – often with a period of supervising either people or a process, before moving into a role where you lead a business or function using more strategic thinking. Today, with more MBAs in the workplace, and a more confident and contextually relevant workforce, this is being questioned. Younger Leaders are delivering performance at all levels. How they are delivering has evolved – more collaboration, assertiveness, technology solutions. However, with more focus on the outcome instead of employee welfare and relationships, the ‘my way or the highway’ approach is something I have observed too often, lately.

New tools, everyday
Gone are the days when tenure meant honed skills, capability or competencies that lead to recognition and respect. In the ‘good old days’ the Marketing Director was King or Queen of the castle. Through an established career path of trainee and brand roles you would have ended up leading the team. Today’s context is creating a workplace paradigm shift where, simply put, the knowledge is at the base of the pyramid. If you don’t get (and I mean really get) Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google Analytics, Digital Marketing, you will be challenged to lead a Marketing team.

This workplace generation transition is affecting many leadership areas, the impact on established organisational norms are both soft e.g. leadership styles and hard e.g. salary structures.

Five recommendations for leadership in the Millennial age

Earn Respect
Find the balance between the urge to expect respect for your position and providing leadership that will inspire respect. Bonus: you will feel incredible!

Achievement is key
Learn how to set really clear goals/objectives/targets and provide monthly feedback and coaching sessions. I mean real coaching not the telling type!

Communicate differently
Remember: different folks, different strokes. Change your communication method – this generation uses different media, move to whatever works best for you and your team.

Space to grow
Build an environment of freedom with accountability, treat them as employees with capability instead of trainees, give them the freedom to excel and take risks!

I can learn, I can learn, I learn
This is your new mantra. Start from the point of accepting their expectation, feedback, inputs (as wacky as they may seem at times), their need to collaborate, share, and to be a key player in the journey instead of being a tourist.

Note to the Millennial reading this:

Be gentle on the rest of us. You have immense opportunity to positively impact this and future workplaces. Harness and focus your ability and energy, maximise your talents and confidence whilst being aware of those around you. In summary, begin with the mindset that we are learning to lead you. This means you need to help us to understand what makes you tick, what elements of our leadership style work for you and what don’t – its not about what you like, we will leave that for your parents!



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