MillennialLeadershipDepositphotos_26986033_s-2015-copyI know what you’re thinking! They are different, aren’t they?

Millennials are entering into adulthood on their terms– with their own ideas of work, life and fulfillment. You can ignore them, embrace them or be constantly frustrated by them.

In the first quarter of 2015 Millennials became the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. They have surpassed the Boomers and have just overtaken the Gen Xers for top billing. Millennials are 35% of the workforce– and that number will only grow.

Here is what we know. With this generation there comes a burning ambition to impact the world. They are a generation of passionate, collaborative and achievement-oriented young people who – contrary to some people’s opinion – desire relationships with older generations.

If this is true, then why are they so hard to lead? For starters, here are 3 reasons.


It is very natural for Millennials to want a “place at the table.” They grew up in praised-based and democratic-based homes. Unlike other generations, Millennials experienced participative decision making interacting with parents and other adults.

Millennials took part in deciding where to go for dinner, what the family vacation might include, the distribution of chores around the house, and what technology (TV’s, phones, printers, computers) would be purchased.

The CEO of Viotech Solutions asks interns, on the first day of their orientation, to look around and see what they could fix, or at least improve on in their time as an intern. They are seeing incredible results retaining this generation. Why? Because Millennials crave involvement.

When this generation’s opinions are solicited, their commitment and engagement runs deep.

Life is a full contact sport for Millennials. This generation desires engagement and will quickly get bored if they don’t feel involved.

It all starts with the leaders attitude. Rather than giving orders, explain to Millennials how their participation is essential to the success of the mission.

Think empowerment. Empowerment leads to engagement. And that leads to increased productivity.


Millennials are drawn toward authentic leaders. Authentic leadership is transformational leadership, where one is motivated, inspired and even changed by the leaders they follow. Like you, Millennials will learn more from what you did wrong than what you did right. Our greatest learning comes when we reflect on our mistakes. Millennials are no different.

Millennials are not looking for perfection. Authentic leadership doesn’t come from copying superstars and genius visionaries. It comes from two things: (1) identifying your strengths, and (2) playing to your strengths.   Millennials can spot imitation and posing very quickly. Being a superstar leader will not work with this generation. Being unexceptional is better than being unbelievable.

What does an Authentic Leader look like?

  1. Having a genuine desire to serve.
  2. Understanding your purpose.
  3. Having strong values about doing the right thing.
  4. Establishing trusting relationships with others (I will do you no harm and have your best interests in mind).
  5. Being passionate about your mission.

Millennials were raised in an era where virtual reality became reality. However, make no mistake about it. They crave true authentic relationships, especially in their leaders.


Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” Yet what worked for President Roosevelt may not work for Millennials. They desire servant-leadership inspired by humility. We often hear from clients that it isn’t their job to reach out to Millennials; that Millennials should reach out to them. Real success comes when the most mature take the first step.

What are the attributes of an effective leader? Across the Board Magazine: For Business Leaders announced, 63% of Top Executives Say That Most Managers Careers Are Stalled Because They Simply Do Not Understand Others.” Understanding won’t happen without humility.

Humble leaders are strong leaders. They have what Jim Collins calls, “egoless clarity.” They are committed to the vision and they don’t care who gets the credit. They are confident enough to be teachable. They might be the leader, but they also know the younger generation has much they can learn from – and they celebrate it. Admitting that you still have things to learn – even from someone half your age– establishes respect that cannot be bought. Only the humble at heart can do this.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself. Humility is thinking of yourself less. It’s looking for ways to empower those you lead. And it builds mutual respect.

In essence we are talking about servant-leadership. This includes:

  1. Listening, which is an interactive process of both talking and listening. This takes humility.
  2. Empathy, attempting to see the world from the other person’s point of view. This takes humility.
  3. Commitment to the growth of followers, which includes opportunities for career development, developing new work skills, taking a personal interest in their ideas, and involving them in decision-making. This takes humility.

This builds community. Community allows followers to identify with something greater than themselves – something they value. Humility is essential to servant-leadership. It builds community to provide a place where people can feel safe and connected with others, and yet still allows them to express their own individuality.

When a Millennial sees and feels this, they can’t wait to sign up.

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4 Responses
  1. Insightful article. I definitely see these traits in the millennials with whom I work. Really, who doesn’t want their boss to be empathetic?! Thanks for sharing your valuable knowledge.

  2. So True Teri. We all want to be around empathetic people, including our superiors! And for Millennials it is an exponential desire. In that sense, they are changing the workplace for the better. Thanks.

  3. James Hennessey

    Mick, very good article. I’m also in the process of a book that you and Chip Espinoza wrote, Managing the Millennials. How does all of this work in Public Administration? For example, my profession, the Fire Service where it is a para-military organization that has a hierarchy? Thanks

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