It’s Their Turn: 5 Ways to Prepare Millennials for Leadership

next generation of leaders

When a 2014 Wall Street Journal article warned that the 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day could devastate the federal budget, many readers were skeptical—not about the political or financial impact of so many Americans retiring, but about the statistic itself. Are 10,000 people, on average, retiring every single day? So many readers questioned the number, in fact, that editors at The Washington Post decided to fact-check.

The result? The stat earned a “Gepetto,” which means a claim is “on solid ground.” (A “Pinocchio,” of course, would mean the opposite.) An average of 10,000 U.S. workers really do leave their jobs for retirement, every day. Who will replace this flood of upper-level managers and supervisors leaving the workplace?

An obvious answer would seem to be Generation X, the group sandwiched between the larger boomer and millennial generations. The problem is that the smaller numbers of Gen X won’t be enough to fill the vacancies. More and more, Gen Y (millennials, born between 1981 and 1995) will be expected to step up and lead. 

A Very Different Generation

Millennials, however, are very different from the baby boomers they’ll be replacing. They’re much more tech-savvy, prefer more flexible work arrangements, and may have different attitudes about hierarchy and workplace culture.

Despite these differences, we need to develop plans and practices now, to prepare this next generation of leaders. Here are five practical ways to make sure they’re ready to take the reins when their time comes.

  • Provide management training. Offer plenty of training and learning opportunities through classes, online or in-person, or other professional development opportunities. Don’t assume they can learn everything they need to know on the job, or that they’ve been trained in how to lead, because this isn’t always the case.
  • Be transparent about their opportunities. One of the most frequently-given reasons for millennials leaving jobs is that they don’t see leadership opportunities for themselves, and believe they don’t have options for advancement. Make sure they’re aware of the options that exist.
  • Emphasize Soft Skills Development.com defines soft skills as “the subjective talents people possess in a job, including good listening and speaking capabilities, pleasant manner, positive attitude, integrity, and social skills.” Without these skills, a manager will struggle to inspire, direct, or lead effectively. Offer training for developing millennials’ soft skills, especially interpersonal communication.
  • Give frequent, constructive feedback. Offer regular feedback that’s honest, specific, and encouraging. Younger workers often prefer frequent feedback to formal and infrequent evaluations. Make the feedback specific, and be sure to tell them exactly what they need to do in order to improve. Also, be sure to let them know where they’re succeeding, and that you value their contributions.
  • Help them Plan their Careers. Offer them resources to be strategic about their careers.

In addition to making sure they’re aware of their options for advancement, offer them

frameworks and mentoring so they can see how their interests, career goals, and opportunities intersect. If their present trajectory doesn’t align with realistic goals and options, they can reconsider their choices and current path.

Millennials are often unfairly maligned in popular culture and the media as spoiled and “entitled,” but they have plenty to offer as leaders. With a clear understanding of who they are—their priorities, assumptions, and worldview—and the skills they need to develop, we can invest now in developing the sound practices and tools to help them blossom into the capable and innovative leaders we’ll need, tomorrow and today.

 

Dr. Candace Steele Flippin is a multigenerational workplace scholar, author, and public affairs expert. Connect with her at www.candacesteeleflippin.com.