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Managing Millennials and the Future of Leadership

Posted on March 2018

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​It is evident that when it comes to work, millennials are very different than the generations that came before them. In order to support and manage this type of talent, it is essential to address the generational differences, to better understand their priorities and behavior in the workplace.

Millennials all have one thing in common: they want to make a difference. Research suggests that this new breed of worker is not primarily motivated by money. In a survey by Virtuali and Workplace Trends, just under half of millennials identified empowering others as their primary motivation for leadership. It is more than just a numbers game, with only 5% citing money as the reason they would pursue a leadership role.

Given these difference, current leaders must consider new management styles for leading these employees, and consider how to incorporate millennial priorities into the organizational processes. Additionally, as millennials themselves begin to reach management positions, organizations must consider how these leaders, and their own management styles, will differ from the leaders who preceded them.

Managing Millennials

Generational differences mean that millennial workers need to be managed in a different way; focusing on how they perceive their role in the workplace. Many studies are promoting the idea that rather than a traditional management structure, millennials prefer to be ‘led’, rather than ‘managed’. This shift is promoting new and emerging attitudes when it comes to the nature of leadership. It is down, in part, to the fact that millennials don’t see work in the traditional sense. Rather, millennials see the workplace as a hub of innovation and a place to be social – and now the workplace and leadership need to adapt to meet these expectations. Collaboration is key when it comes to millennials as they value relationships and teamwork, rather than individual contribution.

In the modern workplace the line between the personal and the professional is beginning to blur, and it’s important to make adjustments accordingly. Work is part of the identity of the millennial generation; and this needs to be accounted for in the way they are managed.

The priorities of millennials are different to those of previous generations in several key ways.


Millennials see promotional and advancement as a central factor in the workplace, and value these opportunities within a company. It is one of the key motivators they consider when choosing a company to join. Managers need to focus not just on how these employees can help the business, but how the organization can support them into the next stages of their professional growth. New experiences are of the utmost importance to millennials; tactics such as putting them on rotation to experience and learn about different areas of the business can help them feel they are continually growing.

It is imperative to understand that these employees have an expectation that performance leads to faster advancement. To keep them satisfied with their positions, companies need to create a strong correlation between performance and promotions. One strategy to consider is adding additional grades and position levels to make quick and more frequent promotions feasible from a business perspective.

It is not just about their own advancement but the idea that everything is progressing – task these staff with creating innovative solutions to existing processes and problems. Efficiency is a priority, and they value the ability to contribute to the wider growth and progress of the organization.

Training is a valuable tool in retaining millennials, for whom continued learning and development is a main focus. They want to learn new skills and constantly develop themselves personally and professionally. Offering training opportunities to existing employees is a great way to maintain a focus on progression.


Millennials like to know where they stand, and how they are performing in relation to their goals. Whether it is constructive criticism about how they could perform better next time or just praise for a job well done, this group appreciates feedback. This could come in the form of regular one-to-one meetings or quarterly appraisals, but what matters is the continued dialogue and feedback on their work. The mentality behind this is similar to that of advancement – millennials like to feel that they are always moving forwards and advancing, so providing continuous feedback maintains the perception of progressing towards a target, and allows for improvements or adjustments if needed.

A job is not just about money for a millennial, they want to know that they are learning and growing throughout their career. Regular meetings and feedback are likely to boost performance, creating a more productive, motivated team.


85% of millennial talent globally have identified diversity and inclusion as important when it comes to choosing a workplace. There is a disconnect between candidates and employers with 71% of candidates feeling that a number of employers who promote diversity are ‘ticking boxes’ rather than genuinely supporting diversity initiatives. It is vital that organizations build diversity into their employer value propositions and communicate it to potential candidates with their employer brand marketing.

Businesses should take this a step further, integrating it into the foundations of the business. Millennials are keen to be involved in diversity initiatives and will likely participate in any projects and initiatives that foster a more inclusive work environment. For this reason, diversity is not only important for attracting millennial talent, but also retaining them and keeping them engaged with the organization.

The Importance of Flexibility

One of the most central priorities for millennial workers is flexibility This generation works well when given detailed instructions and set KPIs, but would prefer to have a more flexible working arrangement to meet their targets, rather than being micromanaged.

Flexible working environments are also attractive to millennials because it helps them maintain work-life balance. Millennials value the potential to work from home or even from a coffee shop – with the emphasis on quality of work, rather than the location of where the work is performed. Millennials value the ability to see and do new things, such as travelling, so flexibility is a big motivator for this demographic, many of whom have a strong desire to work abroad as part of a role.

Millennials in Leadership

Millennials are different to the Gen X-ers and baby boomers mainly in that they have grown up at a time where nearly every aspect of their lives has been infiltrated by technology. This has not only shaped their needs and wants from an employment perspective, but also it alters the management style they will have as leaders themselves.

Millennials value what are considered ‘soft’ principles when it comes to leadership. These include areas such as wellbeing and employee development. Only one in ten millennials felt that effective leaders focused on the bottom line alone. Qualities such as the ability to inspire, vision, the ability to make decisions, and passion were all earmarked as vital characteristic for a strong leader.

Communication skills and relationship-building are often highlighted as the most important skills, with more than half of millennials seeing these as essential (58% and 55% respectively). They also noted these as their core strengths, while industry knowledge (43%) and technical expertise (41%) were seen as less important for a leader.

The majority of millennials want to be transformational leaders who disrupt the status quo and inspire their team. The nature of leadership is evolving and the more traditional hierarchy with a leader imposing rigid control has fallen in popularity, with collaboration and innovation being the key priorities in the minds of millennial leaders.

Long-Term Change

Millennials have a different take on management, both how they prefer to be managed and the types of manager they aspire to be. The central factor lies in their inclination towards leadership, rather than traditional management. They want to be inspired both by their managers and their team around them.

As they now make up such a large proportion of the workforce, it’s likely that these changes will create long-term evolution to the nature of leadership in the workplace. As the definition of leadership changes, it’s important for organizations to keep an open mind about the changing relationship between management and employees and adapt processes to these shifting priorities. Focusing on these objectives will help to attract the best talent and make a company an employer of choice for millennials.

To learn more about attracting millennials to your organization and how millennials will continue to impact leadership in the workplace, get in touch today.


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