The Leadership Shift: The Effect of Millennials Moving into Senior Positions


Subscribe to receive industry-focused thought leadership and insights, delivered right to your inbox Subscribe

Millennials have had a long-standing reputation for altering how companies do business, from creating disruptive innovations to driving changes in the way companies operate.  They have provided a fresh perspective on customer needs and how to fulfill them.  Now, as Millenials mature, many of those who once held entry-level roles are stepping into leadership and management positions.  Given that by 2020, Millennials will make up more than a third of the global workforce, how this generation will lead others is becoming an increasingly pressing issue in the modern workplace.

There are a few different definitions of “Millennial,” but Pew Research sets the earliest year for the Millennial generation in 1981, which means the oldest Millennials are now 38.  According to research from Harvard Business Review, the average age of a first-time manager is 30, and the average age of people in leadership training is closer to 42.  Coupled with the fact that Millennials are expected to overtake Boomers in population by the end of 2019, it is paramount for organizations to start leadership training earlier, especially amongst the Millennial and Generation X demographic. Training for Millennial leadership should focus on the following key areas:

  • How to institute advanced technology and platforms at a faster rate than predecessors.
  • How to implement work-life balance philosophies and how to better integrate them into a company’s culture.
  • How to adapt or even rewrite company policies as they become obsolete or are lagging behind industry trends.
  • How to lead a transition from formal hierarchies to flat organizations, allowing companies to be more agile and responsive to market trends.

Generally speaking, Millennials are more open to new technologies and rapidly adopt emerging technology with less hesitancy than prior generations.  According to Karoline Holicky of Meisterplan, “Millennials trust the power of technology, and know that adopting better systems is the most efficient way to make better decisions.” As such, the expectation is that the Millennial generation will consistently be trying out and incorporating new technologies, understanding how to implement major technological evolutions that will produce fluid, yet stable organizational growth.  Once applied, Millennial leaders will rely on technology to make better decisions and organize resources.

According to a Bentley University study, 77% of Millennials agreed that more flexible working hours would make their generation more productive. Carrying this philosophy into a position of leadership, Millennial leaders will likely instate more flexibility, including customizable hours, more remote work, and even more relaxed rules in the office.  Knowing how to institute these philosophies not only with their peers but with older generations as well will be vital to this transition.

This flexible approach to getting work accomplished is only one structural change that Millennials expect. Millennial leaders are quick to question policy for policy’s sake. They operate under the assumption that both leaders and employees are willing to examine and adjust strategies that no longer appear to add value. Having the skill set to analyze policies and design new, more relevant systems will be critical to effective Millennial leadership.

Finally, formal organizational hierarchies are a keystone hallmark of the Boomer generation.  About 75% of Millennials said that a successful business “should be flexible and fluid in the face of volatile working environments and not enforce a rigid structure on employees.”  How Millennials successfully carry these attitudes into pre-existing formal organizational hierarchies as well as act as the catalyst for organizational structural change will be the primary driver for evolving work conditions in coming years.

Establishing more flexible work policies will be a key attraction for next generation talent and setting up your business with employee-led work conditions now will begin to prepare your organization for Millennial leadership sooner. Appropriate training and development for this upcoming change is essential.  We can expect tomorrow’s C-suite executives to foster work-life balance, a collaborative workplace structure, and policy and technological changes that focus on teamwork, integrity, and fast-paced decision-making and program adoption.