How millennials lead: 4 steps to prepare them for leadership today

How will the next generation lead?  The answer to this question will shape your business and your legacy.

Three factors determine your leadership style:

  • How you were parented
  • How you learn
  • And perhaps the most consequential, your generation

We are in the most significant generational power hand-off in history.

Today 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 years old. Baby Boomers are delaying retirement an average of five years. But the real problem is Generation X. Generation X (born 1965-1981) is about one-third the size of the Baby Boomer population (born 1946-1964).

Translation: there are not enough Gen Xers to fill the hole that Baby Boomers are leaving.

I have helped companies, organizations, and major brands around the world engage Millennials. Top executives complain to me privately that they shouldn’t have to change their entire organization for Millennials. I couldn’t agree more.

They believe Millennial engagement is about appeasement. In reality, it is about legacy.

My ten years of research and work in generational motivation has revealed an incredible truth. Unprepared leadership is the biggest threat to your organization’s survival.

Organizations have three choices.

They can keep their Baby Boomers longer (and many of them are). They can hire more Gen Xers (which is a short term fix). Or they can train Millennials for leadership.

Organizations that do not prepare today will wake up to find their board, their donors, and their directors gone. Experts predict that the wave is less than five years away. This gives you and your team just enough time to begin developing your younger leaders now.

Here are the four steps to training Millennials for leadership today.

1. Understand how they lead

Most leadership training programs don’t address because they don’t understand generational leadership. All of our research shows each age cohort leads and is led differently than the others.

Baby Boomers lead from the top down. Very directional, process-oriented, and structural.

Generation X lead from the side. Very independent, delegation-oriented, and entrepreneurial.

Millennial lead from the middle. They don’t want to be delegated down to or micromanaged. They seek collaboration whenever possible and want to tap into the opinions and experience of everyone on the team.

Understanding how each generation in your organization leads is key to adequately preparing each to live a life of influence.

2. Get their buy-in

Most leadership training programs don’t work. They teach principles, not practicalities. They focus on the stories of other leaders, not real-world scenarios.

Perhaps the most significant mistake leadership programs make is not empowering participants to become a part of the curriculum.

We have developed Next Generation Leadership Academies inside of major companies and learned that getting their participation is the key to success.

Assemble a learning committee and collect feedback on the topics they want training on. Maybe they’re struggling with giving difficult feedback. Or perhaps they find it awkward managing someone their dad’s age. Develop a leadership program with, not just for, your new and young leaders.

3. Train them faster

Research shows that younger generations learn at a faster pace than older generations. Their ability to capture and process new information is an incredible asset for you and your team.

Develop clear training paths for employees at all levels.

As soon as an employee joins the team, they should be assigned a training path. No budget? No problem. Empower each of your staff to develop their leadership training track. Have them incorporate books, TED Talks, classes, and conferences. Create an accountability system where they are sharing with you and one another the key principles they’re learning.

4. Prepare your team

The biggest mistake leaders make projecting their own experience on the next generation. They protest that it took them ten years to become a manager or six years before they got a raise. We are living in times where we cannot afford arbitrary waiting periods. Preparing a generation to lead means putting aside our own expectations or projections about timelines to focus on proficiency and preparedness.

You must set expectations for your current managers and leaders. That way, they won’t feel disrespected that a new generation is coming on the scene and enable a culture that shares knowledge and wisdom across generations.

Most leaders begin preparing someone for leadership when a vacancy appears. By that time it’s too late. Great organizations prepare every person on the team – from interns to executives- to be effective and engaging leaders.

This article first appeared on Appreciation Blog.