What Millennials look for in a leader

Millennials make up the largest percentage of the workforce, with 80 million in the US alone. But what do they look for in a leader and how can you be a better leader for the younger generations?

Everyone has an opinion on how best to lead Millennials – from making work more fun to allowing them to self-manage at work, from adopting flexible working schedules to mentoring. But what do these individuals actually look for?

There are two major qualities that both Gen Z and Millennials look for in their leaders, according to Jim Link, Chief Human Resources Officer at Randstad USA. “The first is an excellent ability to communicate,” he says. “That is to share experiences with them, to talk about the mission and vision and values of the team or group or company. It’s that general overall communicative ability that is extremely important to these individuals.”

As part of that, it’s important to understand how the younger generations prefer to communicate, especially because it could surprise many people. Research carried out by Future Workplace and Randstad US found that an overwhelming amount of Millennial and Gen Z workers much preferred to communicate face-to-face, rather than by email or other messaging apps. 

“I think that says a lot about the generation, that they're able to segregate and separate and be timely and efficient and use technology when it makes sense but also are reserving time for important conversations in face-to-face manner,” Link says.

Read more: Why leaders need to develop their own style

The second quality that the younger generations look for in a leader, according to Link, is someone who can teach them something. According to Cherrie Clark, professor of the practice of management at the Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management, career progression is something that Millennials particular are concerned about. She says that their attitudes toward work were greatly shaped by the economic recession and student loan crisis, meaning they are “more highly educated than any generation in the past” but find themselves with more education and higher expectations.

Link thinks that this will lead to the “idea of coaching, counselling and mentoring in organisations” to become even more important to companies in order to retain this generation as workers.

One change that many companies are making that satisfies this desire for more learning from younger generations is to move away from the idea of the annual performance review. Link says that in their recent study, 28 per cent of Millennial and Gen Z workers said that they wanted feedback daily, a further 26 per cent said they would welcome weekly feedback, a large percentage desired monthly feedback – and just one per cent said that they were happy with the idea of an annual review.

“I think it's actually a continuation of what we see in this generation, which is effectiveness and efficiency and real-time performance,” Link says. “A lot of companies, including ours, are looking to change this. Right now we're working on a massive transformation project within our own company to rid ourselves of that annual performance review process and instead we're going to use that time to do real-time feedback and coaching on performance and development for everyone in the company.”

Another way that many organisations are addressing Millennials' desire to be taught is through mentoring programmes - especially reciprocal mentoring where Millennials are empowered to teach people higher up in the organisation skills that they know (such as social media, for instance), while simultaneously learning about skills such as leadership and resolution management that Millennials themselves report as lacking.


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