4 Ways Millennials Want to Be Led

by Daniel Darling

So, I’m not a Millennial, but barely. I was born in 1978 and officially you can’t be a Millennial unless you were born in 1980 or after. Or so I’m told. So I guess I’m a really young Gen-Xer.

Regardless, I want to address leadership among Millennials. While much ink has been spilled on what this generation wants (much ink that has wrongly cast them as a monolithic group—see my friend Chris Martin’s blog to bust this and other Millennial myths), it’s helpful for leaders of all kinds of organizations to think through what effective leadership looks like today.

1)    Millennials Want to Be Led. The myth about young people is that they are resistant of authority and don’t want to listen to anyone. But in my experience, I haven’t found that to be true. Intrinsic in the human condition is a desire to go somewhere, to reach and fulfill goals and we are always yearning for people who can get us there.

Sometimes, in an attempt to be liked, leaders shrink back from taking charge. But this doesn’t win any credibility and it creates a vacuum that is often filled with chaos and mismanagement. It’s important for those who are under our care to see us step up and lead, to offer direction and guidance.

2)    Millennials Want Credible Leadership. Authenticity today, among leaders, is all the rage. It’s a buzzword. But I think credibility is a better word. Authenticity can be hijacked to mean, “Cool, emotive guy sharing way too much of his personal life,” but credible leadership is leadership that is trustworthy, transparent, and possess no hidden agendas. Given that Millennials have a higher rate of distrust of leaders than previous generations, it’s important for today’s leaders to prove by their lives and by their work why they deserve to be followed. This should be true in every generation, but it’s especially true now.

3)    Millennials Resist Top-Down Leadership. The days of “do-as-I-say-and-don’t-ask-questions” type of authoritarian leadership is out. Newer, younger, more effective leaders lead by consensus. This doesn’t mean a shirking of duties or disrespect for the offices of leadership, but it indicates a need to involve multiple voices in decision-making and to clarify the why behind the what in organizations.

Good leaders who are confident in their own skin are unafraid to solicit advice and take criticism. They adjust and adapt on the fly and do their best to empower with encouragement and authority those whom they task with responsibility. Micro-managing and a kind of obsessive, hands-on style turns off many young leaders and usually leads to a kind of isolated, dysfunctional working environment.

4)    Millennials resist ego-driven leadership in favor of purpose-driven missions. The days of the leader who is feted like a king with his subjects hanging off their every word—these days are gone. Today, younger types respect leaders and even desire to be led, but they want to be lead into a cause bigger than themselves. They are not interested in working for an organization that only serves to make its leader more famous. In fact, the widespread use of social media and blogging platforms means that many team members have their own growing circles of influence. Good leaders help their team leverage their influence for a cause. They don’t fear the growing influence of people who work for them. They are glad to share the stage and work to empower and equip those who answer to them.