Thoughts about Millennial Leadership

Are You a Millennial? Before thinking about millennial leadership, that’s a good question to consider.

Leading together
Leading together

Jon Mertz and Ted Coine have been actively writing lately on what it means to be a millennial.  Mertz has offered a series of posts on his blog, including a number of guest posts, from “millennials,” shedding light on what it might mean to be a millennial and a millennial leader. From that series, Mertz offered this post and list of the “Top 5 Leadership Traits from Millennials.”

The traits Mertz outlined were:

  • Conscious
  • Future Oriented
  • Transparent
  • Collaborative
  • Problem-solving

Being both by age definition and from those traits, a millennial myself, I can affirm these traits. Ted Coine took this further by taking these ideas and others and creating a sort of quiz with six points which would suggest you are a millennial. The points which he offers include:

  • “You can’t stand the term ‘Millennial’ – or any other generation-defining term, for that matter.”
  • “You are psyched about the future.”
  • “You refuse to work for pay alone.”
  • “You embrace the power of WE.”
  • “You really like sincere recognition.”
  • “You are dedicated to making the world a better place.”

I believe these points and their explanations which Coine offers are most helpful. I agree with both Coine’s and Mertz’s lists. However, I don’t think either list from Mertz or Coine is exhaustive or definitive, because no list can ever really be exhaustive.

In addition to these traits and observations that they have shared, I believe there are three other points, which though related are unique and I hope will further our conversation.

1) Authenticity matters!

This means transparency. This also means a desire not to be treated as a “token” for a particular perspective or demographic. This is grounded in a recognition of identity, in that each individual has their own story and perspective. It is important to admit this, and any bias or at least the context that comes to shape (or has shaped) one’s perspectives and story. From what I have seen, millennials value people who are honest about who they are, willing to admit mistakes and fault, and openly share how they are feeling and what they are thinking about.

Authenticity also means that one values another. To share feelings and thoughts takes courage and is a risk. To be authentic then, and to take down whatever created barriers or blinders one might have, takes a big risk. But when one is willing to meet another person honestly in such a way, that is a sign of great respect. Millennials value this among themselves but also especially among all others they meet in any area of life.

2) No person knows it all, so its essential to not only collaborate but to connect across sectors and perspectives.

Both Mertz and Coine picked up on the idea that millennials are collaborative. I would add that they are also networked (in every sense of the word) through relationships and social media. They are not networked just because its the way people build relationships and find job opportunities, its because they believe they are and need to be connected because what they are doing relates with what others are doing in different areas. This means perhaps that someone working in development for a for-profit, may have made some discovery that would be most valuable for public education, and then being willing to share that insight collaboratively for the greater good. There is also a recognition that no one person knows everything or has a definitive knowledge about everything.

In terms of leadership, I think this is really the fulfillment of what Jean Lipman-Blumen sensed was occurring within the world and in leadership when she wrote about Connective Leadership in the late 1990’s. Millennials, I believe, are the first “generation” (though millennials shrug at wide cast labels and categories) to really be connective in a way that is second nature to them.

3) There is a desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Millennial leaders see themselves as part of a global community with a desire to be part of something bigger than themselves.
Millennial leaders see themselves as part of a global community with a desire to be part of something bigger than themselves.

This is related to Mertz’s perspective of millennials being future oriented, and to Coine’s point about being dedicated to make the world a better place. I think its both of these and more. There is a general sense that based on connections in work and life, that people want to be part of the bigger picture. Millennials don’t want to just focus on their own worlds and sectors, they want to be a part of the larger world. But its more than this, they feel deeply that they need to be connected and part of that larger world.

This also speaks to the desire for “meaningful work.” No longer will people just work to earn a paycheck. Part of why they do what they do, and perhaps a bigger part than income frankly, is to be a part of something that they can see is doing something important in the world, affecting some kind of change, or “serving” in some way. There is a desire to be a part of something that creates tangible good and positive results in society. This is a sort of transcendence beyond the individual and its something that seemed to be the case among my peers in school growing up, and only continued to intensify through high school, college, and grad school among peers and colleagues.

I should add a note. These perspectives are both from what I see as a “millennial” myself and from what I have seen from other leaders. Because of this, I offer them only as my perspective and not as something definitive. I do appreciate though that Jon, Ted, and I have seemingly found resonance.

So, what do you think? Do you see similar realities among yourselves or others that could be classified as millennials? What other characteristics or points would you add to these combined lists? What do you think of Jon’s, Ted’s and my perspectives and thoughts?

Image Credit: Leading together and Global community.

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