What Kind of Leaders Are Millennials?

closeup of a young man with the word yolo, for you only live once, tattooed in his hand, with a filter effect
By Hannah Morgan

Leadership is a popular topic these days. You have probably read about a shortage of great role models or the need for a change in leadership styles. What we know for sure is that millennials, the next generation in line to be leaders, are beginning to step up to the plate and will define what leadership looks like in the future.

Millennials want to be leaders. Ninety-one percent of millennials aspire to be leaders, according to The Millennial Leadership Study, a new survey jointly conducted by Virtuali, a leadership training firm and consultancy, and WorkplaceTrends.com, a research and advisory membership portal.Interestingly, of the 91 percent seeking leadership responsibilities, more than half are women. More women in leadership roles could impact or even break up the "good ol' boys" network and pay inequality, criticized by so many today. And if women become more dominant and influential, their communication and work styles guarantee a shift in how companies are lead. Here's what else to expect:

Leading with the heart. Nearly 50 percent of the millennials surveyed define leadership as "empowering others to succeed." Dan Schawbel, founder of WorkplaceTrends.com, explains: "Millennials want to help others succeed, which contradicts the stereotype that millennials are narcissistic." The top reason millennials want to become leaders is to empower others, while only 5 percent say money and 1 percent claim to want power. A more compassionate leadership style may be the trademark of millennials.

Leading with purpose. More than 60 percent of aspiring millennial leaders "want to challenge and inspire their followers with a sense of purpose and excitement," according to the study, which termed this leadership style as transformational. "Millennials are known to want to align themselves with social causes and work for companies that are giving back to society," Schawbel says. "They want to do meaningful work that enables them to make an impact at their company and in the world."

Low employee engagement and job satisfaction is a major struggle companies face as they attempt to hold on to talent. Today's workers are looking for companies with a missions and values aligned with their own. The millennial leadership may be just what it takes for companies to hold on to employees and beat the war for talent by attracting new employees with a shared vision.

Making leadership fit. It is widely known that millennials value flexible work schedules and telecommuting. The study found that 28 percent of millennials are concerned that being a leader may disrupt their treasured work-life balance. Rather than pass up the opportunity, millennials may find ways to make the demands of leadership fit their lifestyle.

"Millennials like to collaborate with their peers in order to achieve objectives and are transformational leaders who bring out the best in teammates," Schawbel says. Using strong teaming skills and a collaborative work style, millennial leaders may consider creating strong leadership teams in order to share the demanding workload.

Filling the gaps. There will be gaps and voids to fill as new leadership takes the helm. Mentoring is one way soon-to-be leaders can learn the ropes. Millennials realize they lack experience and skills, and the study reports that 53 percent are eager to learn from mentors. Company-sponsored mentoring programs already exist in some organizations. And some companies want to foster a two-way transfer of knowledge and have started to implement reverse mentoring programs that enable senior or more seasoned employees and leaders to learn from tech-savvy millennials.

Millennials may be misunderstood. But as the largest generation in the workforce, they have a significant influence. It's only a matter of time before they begin redefining leadership and other workplace trends.

Hannah Morgan writes and speaks on career topics and job search trends on her blog Career Sherpa. She is the author of "The Infographic Résumé" and co-author of "Social Networking for Business Success."
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