I came up through the corporate ranks where the culture was to listen and learn, to study qualities of a boss or MD and work your way into a leadership "position". It was something we aspired to.
The idea of leadership was shaped by hierarchy and the perception was that leaders were often higher up in the food chain. We were told, "You have leadership qualities and you will make a great leader someday". The reality is we know that someone’s title doesn’t necessarily make them a leader and even more so an effective leader. But it was the psychology of my generation that was so embedded in us.
Now, as someone who is a 45 year-old Managing Director of a communications company, I’ve seen a drastic shift in the younger staff and their perceptions of leadership. Technology through connectivity and access has allowed for this next generation to embrace the idea of leadership in the now, in the present. Social media, the world of digital influence, the ability to instantly connect with people all over the world and the immediate access to information, has empowered this generation to find a confidence and set a course that before was not possible. I’m seeing more of an entrepreneurial mind-set than ever before. Anything is possible.
To put this into context, I conducted an interview just the other day for a junior account executive position in influencer relations and communications. The young lady I was interviewing had about a year and half agency experience and was 24 years old. She was poised, articulate, and very eager. At the end of the interview, I thought we were finished and as I stood up she very authoritatively yet with a smile on her face, told me we weren’t finished yet and indicated she had a couple of questions for me. To my surprise, she asked me about my vision for the office. I told her. Then she followed up by asking me the potential speed in her trajectory based upon her performance and skills. I told her that while she needed to be focused on the job required of her and not get ahead of herself, her potential was limitless and growth inevitable if she delivered. She said, "that is what I was hoping you would say as I don’t want to invest in somewhere where I can’t move ahead". How times have changed. I remember back when I was starting out thinking "I really hope I get hired" and for sure not how quickly I will get promoted. This is yet another indication of the drive and attitude of this new generation of emerging leaders.
You can interpret this type of boldness, or fierceness if you will, as an indication that this generation has a sense of entitlement. While there is a thin line between what someone thinks they deserve and what someone actually deserves, I see this generation’s attitude with how uber-competitive both the university and job worlds have become. They are adapting to their environment. With less jobs and more competition, no time has been "more survival of the fittest" than the present. I see more of a hunger to succeed as much as they need to stand out. I don’t agree with critics that this generation wants more and will put in less. I see quite the opposite. They want the world and are willing to fight harder than ever before to get it.
At PMK-BNC, our current staff out of 263 employees is over 65 per cent millennials. That is the highest percentage in the company’s history as more talented, leader-poised candidates are applying for positions on a daily basis. The millennial candidates we are seeing have better qualifications (years of internships and second degrees) than we have seen in any years past. The competition is fierce.
But with all this said, no matter the drive, savviness, access to information or ambition in the world, it will only get you so far if you don’t have what I call LCV (leadership core values) to back it up. There is one big red flag that I need to wave based upon a trend that I’m seeing in this next generation of leaders... their desire to be liked and to be acknowledged for all they do (we can thank Instagram for that). And those of us that have been doing this for a long time, know that neither of those things equate to leadership.
The core fundamentals of leadership are unequivocally essential to longevity and ultimately success: Substance; Authenticity; Compassion; Authority. Substance is what you are made of, authenticity is who you are, compassion is how you deal with people, and authority is how you make decisions, no matter their popularity or perception.
Not all the "new leaders" bursting on to the scene often have these qualities that to me, qualify someone as a true leader. The powerful thing about these characteristics is that they are truly agnostic to someone’s age, background, schooling, ethnicity, gender or drive. These qualities are a combination of intuition and experience. So while it is such an exciting time to welcome a new crop of leaders and embrace their ambition, drive and desire to succeed, it’s equally as important for us veterans to remind this generation that leadership is a state of mind, not a state of being.