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How millennials challenge traditional leadership

Lauren Brousell | Aug. 5, 2015
Millennials say they don't care about money, legacy or hierarchy, and instead aspire to be collaborative, empowering and transformational leaders. However, many millennials also say their organizations lack the necessary corporate training programs to get them there.

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Millennials challenge many of today's traditional business practices, so it's not surprising that they are also disrupting corporate leadership. The millennial generation isn't attracted to the money or recognition associated with leadership positions. Rather, they want to be leaders to inspire others, make a difference in the world and lead companies that care about more than the bottom line, according to a new survey from Virtuali and Nearly half of the 412 millennials surveyed (47 percent) say they are motivated to be leaders because they want to empower others, while only 10 percent care about legacy, and 5 percent say they'd take a leadership job for the money.

"Millennials view organizations much less hierarchically than previous generations," says Sean Graber cofounder and CEO of Virtuali, a leadership-training firm and consultancy. "Being a leader for a millennial might not necessarily mean being a CEO or a VP, but the definition [of leadership] is more expansive for them."

The vast majority of millennial respondents aspires to be leaders (91 percent) and would prefer to work for companies with fewer layers of management (83 percent). However, the millennials' most significant reservations about leadership roles are a lack of work-life balance (28 percent) and fear of failure (19 percent).

"Work-life balance was one of the biggest issues in taking on that next role, and as millennials assume these [leadership] roles, they will struggle with that more and more," Graber says. "But even though they might have some reservations, overwhelmingly, they want to assume these [leadership] positions."

Millennials say soft skills are key to leadership success
Millennials believe soft skills will put them on the fast track to leadership positions. Survey respondents said the most important skills are communication (58 percent) and relationship building (55 percent), and they feel they are already strong in these two areas. On the flip side, millennials have less confidence in their industry knowledge (43 percent) and technical expertise (41 percent).

Working on those shortcomings is a challenge for millennials, and more than half of the respondents (55 percent) said they aren't satisfied with the leadership development opportunities at their companies, a sentiment reflected in Virtuali's last survey from 2014. Many of the millennials said they want online classes or e-learning opportunities (68 percent) and mentor programs (53 percent) to help prepare for leadership roles, and they also want to shadow more experienced leaders (42 percent).

Aside from providing the training millennials want, companies should give feedback, set time for introspection and assign mentors to help millennials find areas of improvement, according to Graber. "Those are really big opportunities for companies, not only to help [millennials] get better at their jobs, but because they are heavily tied to engagement."


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