Last updated: 19 October 2015
The trend to criticize the latest generation as being more unruly and selfish than the last is a long-standing one.
And true to form, millennials, those born between 1980s-2000 (and widely regarded as the “me, me, me generation”) – are now at the mercy of this historic tradition.
At 80 million strong, they’re the biggest generation in American history. And to match their greatness, they also come equipped with a rather sizable sense of entitlement and narcissistic tendencies to boot.
Leaving many to question, are they ready to be leaders?
As children of the baby boomers, millennials were raised with an extra shot of self-esteem in their milk.
The belief that they can – and more importantly, they deserve – to reach dizzying heights in every aspect of their lives was instilled at an early age by well-intending parents. As better to aim sky-high rather than down at the old tried and tested pavement, right?
Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor at the Florida State University, labels this as “an honest mistake” by parents trying to build the kind of confidence they lacked growing up.
But as a result, many millennials are now facing an existential crisis of unmet expectations. They want it all, and they want it now – especially in relation to their careers.
And herein lies the problem.
In reality, the road to “having it all” is a long and sometimes unrealistic one. For many, it’s simply not possible to have it all. Meaning their high expectations are being shattered when they come face-to-face with the real world.
Another unexpected fallout from this early self-esteem boost is that millennials are also facing a narcissistic pandemic. Never before has a generation been so shameless when it comes to promoting themselves.
The likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube have allowed people to become self-branding experts in an effort to grow their “ideal identity” – and in some cases, even become mini-celebrities.
According to the National Institute of Health, one evident consequence of this is the rise of narcissistic personality disorders for people in their 20’s – which is now three times higher than those 65 years and above.
However, to counterbalance their self-involvement, millennials also come equipped with many qualities that prime them perfectly for leadership roles.
For example, they’re transparent, much more accepting of others, and have been dubbed the ultimate “life hackers.”
The information revolution has given them untold opportunities and technology to rise up against big corporations and do things their own way.
They’re not waiting years for career opportunities to come along. They’re creating them for themselves by forming tech start-ups in the early 20’s, taking global assignments and seeking continual development.
Whereas those who aren’t testing their entrepreneurial hand, 70% are thinking about launching their own organization, according to a recent study by Deloitte. Meanwhile only 20% actually have any interest in being the head of a big organization.
So it seems, millennials don’t want to lead your company, they want to build, create and conquer their own. Time magazine sums it up perfectly with this quote:
“The information revolution has further empowered millennials by handing them the technology to compete against huge organizations: hackers vs. corporations, bloggers vs. newspapers, terrorists vs. nation-states, YouTube directors vs. studios, app makers vs. entire industries. Millennials don’t need us. That’s why we’re scared of them.”
How Millennials Are Changing Leadership
One thing for sure is that millennials are looking for openness and transparency when it comes to leadership.
They’ve grown up in a generation that’s more accepting of gender, race and sexual orientation. They’re comfortable with diversity, and fully expect organizations to lead with the same type of acceptance and inclusiveness at all levels.
Millennials also want lots of career growth, and they want it fast. In the same Deloitte study, it concluded that millennials want new assignments every 12-24 months. Long gone are the days where someone would wait 3-5 years for a promotion. So organizations need to find new ways to create room for growth – but not necessarily in an upward direction.
The reason being, organizations have started to “flatten.” Instead of the typical pyramid style of leadership where you have to climb the corporate ladder, people are now climbing the corporate lattice. Which is a positive sign of the times as companies finally start to do away with unnecessary management layers.
But to match these changes, millennials are embracing opportunities to take on global assignments and short contracts in favor of fast development. The challenge here for some of the big and long standing organizations is that this goes against their HR model.
Running their companies like a consulting firm by hiring staff for 3-6 month periods contradicts what many have been working to achieve: retention and loyalty.
However, in order to attract and develop leadership skills in millennials, companies will need to start creating more dynamic assignment-based positions they can sink their teeth into. Albeit even if it’s just long enough to get a taste of the organization before moving onto the next opportunity.
But the benefit of this is that they’re also comfortable with having less role structure. In many cases, they want development and opportunity rather than job security that comes with rigid processes and rules.
As a result, they strive on continuous innovation and change. They also favor performance-based appraisal and rewards, rather than tenure (which is probably just as well seeing they don’t stick around long enough for the latter!).
So in order for organizations to continue to attract talent, they need to offer the flexibility and dynamic work conditions millennials crave.
The article “Millennials Will Soon Rule The World: But How Will They Lead?” by Forbes, perfectly articulates how millennial are changing leadership:
“The word we like to use is ‘continuous.’ Today’s organization must provide continuous feedback, continuous recognition, continuous opportunity to new assignments, and continuous focus on customer needs. If you rethink your organization along the lines of transparency, the lattice, and continuous career development, you’ll be headed in the right direction.”
Despite being labeled the “me, me, me” generation, millennials are rapidly changing the face of leadership, and indeed the workforce. The information revolution has given them the tools to create and innovate like never before, which means the leadership landscape needs to also evolve so it can develop tomorrow’s leaders, today.