Five Timeless Leadership Competencies for Millennials

Taking advantage of a generational transformation

One of the greatest shifts in business history is currently unfolding. A generational transformation is underway that will open the door to an unprecedented opportunity for impact for Millennials and their organizations.

Millennials, Leadership, Competencies, Human Resources, Organizations, Development, Leadership development, fairness, fair

You can gain a significant advantage by both recognizing and seizing it. It begins with organizations of all types clamoring to attract quality talent. But beyond attracting talent how organizations respond to this generational transformation may well predict not only future success but survival.

As Baby Boomers exit the work force in record numbers Millennials will represent 40% of the total workforce by 2020. This generational shift is creating the largest gap between the knowledge and experience of current leaders to that of future leaders in modern business history.

Organizational effectiveness and success rises and falls with leadership. Leaders are the difference makers in great organizations. This creates the opportunity that defines the problem.

The state of organizational leadership preparedness:

  • Only 40% of businesses believe their “identified high-potentials” can meet their future business needs. Identified is the key word here because in many cases organizations have no proven process for identifying “high-potentials”.
  • 85% have an urgent need to discover and add employees with leadership potential.
  • 47% report significant gaps in knowledge between current and future leaders as a critical issue.
  • Unfortunately because of unpreparedness “bad bosses” are rising to positions of responsibility and influence. A circumstance that exacerbates the challenge of talent development and hurts organizational performance.

What about talent retention?

Beyond facing a leadership deficit organizations are also staring at a retention problem. The most recent Deloitte Millennial Survey reveals even if an organization is attracting great talent there is a strong likelihood they not staying for long.

  • 25% of Millennials expect to leave their current job in less than a year.
  • 66% plan to leave in two to five years.
  • 71% are unhappy with how their leadership skills are being developed and believe they are being overlooked for potential leadership positions.

Senior leadership (largely Baby Boomers—born1946 to 1964 and Gen X’s born 1965 to 1980) know something Millennial’s (born 1981 to 2000) have likely been told but have largely ignored in their rush to the corner office— It takes 20 months to develop a high-potential employee into a mid-level manager and 38 months for senior level of positions.

Victim or Victor?

The need for leaders will is likely to never be greater than it will be over the ten years. If you are a Millennial or the parent of a Millennial, the question is what is the best course of action to take advantage of this opportunity?

Alvin Toffler, the iconic futurist, said, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” The victims will be those who are unwilling to learn and hold tightly to the belief their employer owes them something. Organizations would be wise to build and execute great development plans. Unfortunately they just might not be willing or capable of doing it.

The shift in mindset from victim to victor is two letters. You choose to be a victor. Victors will be the those Millennials who embrace a teachable spirit, take responsibility for their personal and professional leadership development and build a plan to execute it.

By nurturing a teachable spirit Millennials can more rapidly develop the leadership qualities that will allow them to stand out and step into the leadership positions they covet. A UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School study, How to Accelerate Leadership Development, identified:

Five Timeless Millennial Leadership Competencies

  1. Ethics and integrity.
  2. Drive for results.
  3. Communicates effectively.
  4. Strategic thinking/insight.
  5. Building and maintaining relationships.

You can develop these competencies without the aid and support of an employer. And if you possess these qualities and can demonstrate them you’ll attract a lot of attention. Everything rises and falls on leadership. No one is a born leader. Anyone can grow as a leader and increase their personal and professional value by becoming a student of leadership.

Four Leadership Strategies for Millennials

  1. Develop a mentoring relationship with a great leader(s)—preferably in the organization you are working in or one you aspire to work at.
  2. Don’t expect things to be fair. Fair is not a strategy. There is no true measure of fairness for people development and selection. 77% of the time your readiness will be based on the subjective recommendation of your manager. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Simply make your own excellent capabilities and contributions your standard.
  3. Grasp the fact that this radical shift in economic structure and talent demand is a result of technology. It will change how work is done and what will be valued in the future. It is likely we will see many of these changes falsely categorized under the umbrella of fairness. But understand it is structural, foundational and rolling into the future like a bullet-train—fair or not. Take the time to read Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee to fully understand the issue, implications and remedy.
  4. Focus on what you can do to develop these competencies outside of company supported training and development. Companies commonly identify self-work and self-mastery as the primary means for developing the first two competencies. If you expect your company to be the sole champion of your leadership development you will be disappointed and left behind.

Learners will inherit the earth!

Eric Hoffer, Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, said, “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped, to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

This generational transformation is changing the face of leadership. Those who embrace a teachable spirit will hold a distinct advantage. By learning the art and craft of leadership they will be easily identified as the leaders of the future.

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