Leadership Lessons for Millennials

Being a new leader requires a completely different set of skills than those that are needed as an individual contributor

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Millennials are the largest generation of the last year and they are finally old enough to be leaders. What kind of leaders are they going to be? Are they ready for the ‘commitment’ that leadership brings with it? Are they prepared for it?

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Organizations and leadership structures have evolved in a big way. In most new age enterprises, hierarchies are mostly flat and managers are no longer the invincible creatures they used to be. In light of the new work dynamics, it will be interesting to see how this information-hungry, scarcely-loyal, purpose-driven generation would face the challenges that come with first-time leadership.

The generation that was once considered immature is now inheriting leadership positions that it has both aspired after and dreaded equally. Being a new leader requires a completely different set of skills than those that are needed as an individual contributor.  It requires adjusting to a leadership mindset, understanding how to hold other people accountable for results, and empowering a team of diverse, individuals to strive for a common goal.

What the Does the Surveys Say?

According to The Deloitte Millennial Survey, 63 per cent of Millennials agrees that they do not have the proper training to be leaders and are not confident about being leaders. In fact, the way Millennials perceive leadership is very different than what it meant to the previous generations. They want to be leaders who are not authoritative but inspiring, who are not restrictive but empowering. Their leadership style is informal, uplifting and trusting.

Having said that, one of the biggest challenges is that the Millennial generation isn’t investing enough time at one workplace to assimilate into its culture and align with the organization’s goals. Attrition is a big issue for this generation as its priorities differ greatly from the ones of its previous generation.  The Deloitte report finds that Millennials and Gen Zs, in general, patronize and support companies that align with their values; many say they will not hesitate to end relationships when they disagree with companies’ business practices, values, or political leanings. Millennials are also generally full of distrust for the economy, the society and politics. This is partly because they grew up in the recession of the 2000s and have a different set of ambitions than the earlier generations

The Positives

Even so, there are a bunch of things that work in the favour of Millennials; they are wonderfully human, they are internationally experienced and well educated. And they are also one of the most adaptable generations ever. If given the right direction, Millennials can make for effective leaders who can inspire the team to achieve more and empower them to excel.

One of the biggest pitfalls for new managers could be the mindset. Most of them struggle to immediately re-prioritize their values away from contributing individually and towards facilitating the contribution of others. In other words, first-time managers tend to still think about challenges and projects as what they need to “do” vs. how they can “lead” others to accomplish the tasks.

The Reality

Changing that mindset is difficult because it requires constant reflection on daily responses to workplace situations. It is only through this reflection that self-awareness ultimately changes the mindset. How well a leader connects with their team has a direct impact on how engaged the team members are at the organization.

In fact, the research identified the manager-employee relationship as one of the key factors in creating an engaged workforce. Leaders who can create more confident, empowered, enthusiastic and inspired teams will have higher levels of productivity, collaboration, and retention.

Yet, it’s not enough to just know how to engage employees. New leaders must focus on making engaging their teams a daily habit, making it a priority in each and every interaction they have with them so they are able to develop meaningful relationships.

The employee engagement research also provides insights into how employees feel and the emotions in the workplace that can act as a leading indicator of engagement.

Is Upskilling the Key?

As a first-time manager, Millennials will need to focus on building an environment that evokes four crucial emotions: Confidence, Empowerment, Enthusiasm and Inspiration.  To help them build these emotions, it is important that their upskilling journey is tailored according to their specific needs.

A learning journey that involves a focus on communication, accountability and self-awareness that links the individual purpose to the higher purpose will help Millennials integrate better in their roles.

Organizations must also concentrate on giving Millennials enough opportunities for self-development and challenging tasks to retain and engage them. This generation prefers to develop their career through a combination of self-driven online learning and organized upskilling programs that let them find their leadership style. For a generation that believes in doing well by doing good, leadership isn’t just about ‘climbing the ladder’ but about truly making a difference.

Pallavi Jha

Written By

Pallavi Jha is the Chairperson and Managing Director of Dale  Carnegie Training India which has international partnerships with some of the world's leading firms and brands such as Dale Carnegie, USA (training), and PerformanSe, France (Assessments). Pallavi has diversified exposure to various management practices in areas such as training and development, HR, consulting and business restructuring, covering a wide range of industries from media, entertainment, technology to the financial services sector and the engineering industry.  

Apart from being a keynote speaker and a panel member in various forums on business, HR, training and leadership and an active member of the Confederation of Indian Industry and has held offices of the Chairperson for Maharashtra Council, CII and the Skills Development Committee for CII, Western Region, she is also an active member of the National Council on Skills Development, CII and its National Sub-committee on School Education.  

As a member of Rotary Club of India, Pallavi pursues her efforts in social projects. She has also received recognition as a Paul Harris Fellow. Earlier, was Executive Director of India's leading construction company, HCC, an erstwhile Walchand Group company before starting off her own ventures. She also worked briefly in market research at Feedback Ventures and Procter & Gamble. Pallavi is an MBA from Syracuse University, New York and a graduate in humanities from St Xavier's College, Mumbai.