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As the largest generation in the labor force, what leadership competencies do Millennials need to lead our next-generation workforce?

In 2016, Millennials surpassed the previous generation (Generation X) to become the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, making up more than one third of all workers. In fact, 28% of Millennials hold management positions today. And, it’s projected that two thirds of managers will be Millennials by 2024. 

Who are these Millennials? What leadership competencies do Millennial managers need to develop to effectively lead our next-generation workforces? 

Who Are the Millennials?

The Pew Research Center defines Millennials as people born between 1981 and 1996, making them ages 24 – 39 in 2020.  There are 71 million in the U.S. alone!

Events that shaped their lives span international politics, the environment, and financial setbacks. Between the ages of five and 20, most experienced the 9/11 attacks and grew up with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ve emerged as the most racially and ethnically diverse adult generation we’ve seen (until Generation Z, which follows Millennials), helping to elect the country’s first black president. Most Millennials entered the workforce at the height of the 2008 recession, giving them a “slow start” at work and a front seat to their parents’ layoffs. As global warming and other environmental and social challenges have emerged, they blame previous generations for neglecting or exacerbating those problems. The Internet explosion, social media, and smartphones defined an “always on” connectivity hat as the norm for this generation. 

It’s no surprise, then, that Millennials tend to believe in themselves (rather than employers) to find new, better ways of doing things. They are drawn to companies committed to making social differences (not just profits). A study from leadership development firm DDI confirms that Millennials are ambitious and eager to lead if they find a company and role they value. Millennial leaders want to build work environments that value contributions from all employees, regardless of experience, family/life commitments, and racial/gender/ethnic backgrounds. 

Which Key Leadership Competencies Must Millennial Managers Develop?

As a group, Millennials are technically savvy. Unlike previous generations, they bring strong technical competencies to the workplace. They have well-honed skills for working with colleagues from diverse backgrounds. They are tuned into to the global community. Is that enough?

Millennials will certainly take their place among the ranks of CEOs over the next 20 years. Are they ready? What competencies do they need to develop to get there?

This Forbes article calls out three key competencies to develop in Millennial managers:

  • Effective Communication: While Millennials are adept at digital and social communications, most need to build stronger business communication skills. Business writing, business communications, and in-person speaking are all essential leadership competencies. Direct reports, colleagues, and customers rely on clear and frequent communications to understand their roles and responsibilities and how their work ties to the bigger picture.
  • Teamwork: Millennials are quick to build inclusive teams, but many are not yet skilled at leading groups of individuals with different motivations through decision-making and collaboration that leads to high performance. 
  • Influence: The skill of influence is one that most managers – from any generation – need to learn as they move from a contributor role to a leadership role. It’s an important one and Millennials need to master the ability to, as Forbes points out, “present a rationale to support their position or build a common vision with which their team can identify.”

The DDI study also explored which skills were most valuable for leaders moving from first-level to top leadership roles. Current CEOs and Millennials have different opinions. CEOs identify these three competencies as the most critical for future Millennial senior leaders and CEOs: 1) Critical Thinking, 2) Stakeholder Management and 3) Business/Management Skills. Millennials in the same study identified a different set of competencies as essential to leading our next generation of workers: 1) Leadership Impact, 2) Interpersonal Skills and 3) Global/Cultural Acumen. DDI observes, “CEOs, of course, have already risen to the top and may have a better perspective on what it takes to succeed. On the other hand, Millennials may have a better view on tomorrow’s workplace—one that is agile and team-focused.”

Whether you’re supporting the development of Millennials who are taking on their first leadership roles or moving onto a senior leadership succession planning track, you’ll want to provide the support they need to develop essential leadership competencies. 

Tips for Developing Leadership Competencies in Your Millennials

For employees to build leadership competencies at any job and experience level, it’s important to know their starting point. To develop your Millennial leaders:

1) Identify the essential competencies your organization needs in its Millennial leaders. Make those clear in your job descriptions.

2) Conduct competency assessments so you and your employees know where there are strengths and skills gaps today. Consider using a robust competency management system such as Avilar’s WebMentorSkills™ to streamline and automate your competency management program

3) Build a learning and development plan geared toward building the skills, experience, and behaviors needed to master those key competencies. Include a mentor as part of the plan, as well as “stretch” experiences that will give young leaders progressively challenging opportunities to develop new skills in your supportive environment. 

4) Provide regular performance feedback. Keep the process and communication open and transparent so your rising Millennial leaders are aware of how they’re doing and can make informed choices.

5) Be open to feedback and plan adjustments. 

Remember, Millennials represent the majority of today’s workforce and traditional leadership that worked for previous generations may not work for the next one. Your Millennial leaders may have new, better ways of doing things. And companies that are open to change will be best positioned for sustainable success.

Ready to shape the leadership competencies of your Millennials? Read our white paper, 5 Key Competencies to Develop Future Leaders. Or contact us to learn how our WebMentor™ Skills competency management system helps organizations assess, track, and manage competencies. 


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