Leadership’s Changing of the Guard

January 15, 2024

life hacksby Dr. John C. Maxwell

Silently, under our noses, a changing of the guard is going undetected. As the Baby Boomer generation retires from positions of leadership, another generation is just beginning to cut its teeth in management. This new generation, The Millennials, brings with them a different set of attitudes and expectations than their predecessors. While most literature has focused on how to manage Millennials, author Jim Heskett poses a question one step down the road in his article, “How Will Millennials Manage?” His commentary, featured on Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge web forum, opens debate on leadership’s newest debutants—those born from the late ‘70s until the year 2000.

Like any generation, the persona of Millennials has been shaped by the societal forces of their formative years. Heskett mentions a few of these in his article, namely the Internet and a robust economy. As the first generation to spend a significant part of childhood with cell phones and email, Millennials are a connected crew. Most of them would prefer to part with their television before their computer. They are used to having access to friends and information in a flash. As the wealthiest generation of all time, they have an entitlement attitude unlike any prior generation. Most did not grow up doing hours of chores on the family farm or being forced to work after school to make ends meet. Rather, affluent Millennials were handed an allowance for nothing more than staying out of trouble.

How will the upbringing of Millennials impact their leadership? For starters, Millennials will tend to have a collaborative management style. Fond of connecting with others, Millennial managers will greatly enjoy leading teams and encouraging participation from their employees. They will have an innate distaste for leadership based upon hierarchy, and, consequently, they will go to great lengths to earn the right to lead.

Millennials have come of age in the most diverse generation in American history, and their minds have been saturated with ideals of tolerance and inclusion. As such, they will be more sensitive to cultural nuances than their predecessors, seeing shades of grey where Boomers saw only black-and-white. Shaped by the Information Age, globalization, and experiences traveling abroad, Millennials will also have an increasingly international perspective.

Impatience may be a potential weakness for Millennials based upon two of their traits: a sense of entitlement and a need for immediacy. As mentioned earlier, Millennials are the most affluent generation in American history. In addition, they grew up at a time when family values were at the forefront of the American psyche. They are used to being catered to and coddled. They expect to get what they want, when they want it, without waiting. They have grown up in a fast-paced, fast food world, and they may struggle when their leadership doesn’t yield instant results.

Shuttled around to soccer practice, karate, and ballet, Millennials grew up leading active lifestyles, and they are likely to be adept multi-taskers. Video games, computers, and iPods have been central to their lives, and, as a result, they will have technological competence far exceeding their limited work experience.

Much more could be hypothesized about Millennial managers. For instance, they are apt to have social values deeply embedded in their leadership, and they will probably be a confident and creative bunch. We could put forth many more conjectures about them, but ultimately, Millennials will define themselves. In the decades to come, they will assume the mantle of leadership and will carve their generation’s reputation into history.

To more thoughts from Jim Heskett about the Millennial generation, visit here.

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