Preparing Millennials to Lead

When you hear the word millennial, what comes to mind? A group of lazy, entitled underachievers or a population reaping the consequences of generations past? Opinions aside, the fact remains that by 2025, millennials will comprise 75 percent of the workforce. This means that businesses will undergo rapid changes for which they need to prepare.

First, employers need to understand what’s important to millennials.

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Recently, American Express released a report that examined the values and expectations of 1,363 millennial leaders and 1,062 Generation X leaders. Results from the research, titled Redefining the C-Suite: Business the Millennial Way, weren’t necessarily surprising, experts say, but they can be helpful as a guide for determining how to attract, retain and grow millennial leadership.

“Millennials have high expectations for the businesses they work for — and will eventually lead,” says Susan Sobbott, president of American Express Global Commercial Payments in New York. “The successful U.S. business of the future will need to have an authentic purpose and foster employee well-being with passionate committed leadership at its helm. Millennials are seeking work beyond just making money, and they’re willing to make trade-offs to achieve their own definition of success.”

One statistic from this report that jumps out is more than one-third of millennial leaders believe the current CEO role will be irrelevant within the next 10 years. What does that mean? Why are these youngsters trying to destroy business as we currently know it?

There’s no need to panic, experts say. Millennials understand businesses still need to earn money, make shareholders happy and have strong leaders at the helm. But their leaders will take different approaches than their autocratic predecessors.

“We’re going to see a big change in leadership styles as more millennials begin to run companies,” says Dan Schawbel, a millennial and partner and research director at Future Workplace, a New York-based HR research firm dedicated to helping companies prepare for the future workplace.

“Instead of the autocratic style, millennial CEOs will adopt the transformational approach. They will have a vision for the company and share it with everyone. These leaders will encourage everyone around them to want to follow that vision.”

Rajiv Kumar, millennial and chief medical officer and president of Virgin Pulse Institute, part of Virgin Pulse, a company committed to improving people’s health and well-being through mobile technology, expands on what the CEO role might look like in the future.

“The CEO role will still exist, but it will be a more integrated, participatory role,” Kumar says. “Instead of the siloed CEOs we see now, millennial CEOs will be accessible to all employees, not just the executives and board of directors. We’ll start to see increased levels of transparency, which will help employees understand the decisions being made and why.”

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Kumar adds that the “why” is key for millennial employees.

“There’s an anecdote I’ve heard where you ask a Gen Xer and a millennial what happened when they broke curfew as adolescents. Gen Xers would say ‘I’d get sent straight to bed and know that my punishment would be bad.’ This is much different than what millennials say: ‘My parents would ask me to join them at the kitchen table and ask, ‘How do you think I should punish you?’ These two approaches are fundamentally different, and can help other generations understand how millennials operate. We were raised to question authority, not follow it blindly. We need to understand why to move forward.”

Something else important to millennial leaders is understanding the impact their businesses can have on people and society. More than three-quarters believe that a successful business will have a genuine purpose — beyond simply making money — that resonates with people (76 percent).

The concept of a “genuine purpose” is often misinterpreted and blown out of proportion, says Schwabel. “A company doesn’t have to change the world to qualify as genuine or meaningful. It just means that the daily routine of the business must align with something that benefits others.”

According to Kumar, “Many of our employees came here because of Virgin Pulse’s social mission to make the world a better place. It’s easy to lose focus on a mission as a business scales, but we’ve successfully recommitted ourselves to our mission and put the success stories of people we help every day at the forefront of our business. This resonates well with our millennial employees.”

In the past year, Virgin Pulse rolled out EPIC (Exceptional Potential early in Career), a program designed to recruit and train the next generation of leaders.

“The EPIC program was started to attract promising new employees to our company and help us stand out from our competitors,” Kumar says. “To stay relevant, we knew we needed to attract up and coming talent.

EPIC, Kumar says, offers millennials a fast track into leadership and creates a career path that allows them to seamlessly enter new roles. “At each step in the process, we offer more training, support and compensation,” he adds.

“Training is important. Not only training the next generation of leaders, but also training all generations on how to interact with each other. Raising awareness about generational differences will help everyone operate more effectively, says Kumar.

“Eventually, we’ll stop talking about millennials and just call it the workforce,” he says. “And for companies to prepare for this workforce, they need to make changes now. Rethink how you operate, don’t be afraid of restructuring. Successful business will be decentralized, collaborative and place premium value on individual well-being and work/life balance.”

Danielle King
Danielle Westermann Kinghttp://
Danielle Westermann King is a former staff writer for HRE.