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Great Organizations | Great Leaders

Perspective: Are Millennials Ready to Lead?

Job performance data confirms Millennials are ready to step up.
Perspective: Are Millennials Ready to Lead?

Generation Y is growing up, and as the oldest of them approach their 30s, many are in line for (or already holding) supervisory and management positions. But is this group well-equipped to assume leadership roles? Or are the images of helicopter parents and their entitled children true depictions—leaving organizations with an acute shortage of talent that’s ready to be called “boss?” We examined that question with a look into our performance data.

To validate the DDI test you use, we collect extensive data about the job performance of leaders. It’s the result of a process where we ask existing employees to take the test, and compare their scores to managers’ evaluations of these same employees. When the results match up, we can validate the test. And, as an outcome of doing so much of this research, we accumulated recent and precise performance data on about 4,000 leaders from 23 organizations.

So, what happens if we look at leaders’ competency proficiencies and compare them by generation? The accompanying graph plots the collective leadership abilities related to eight common competencies for which we have robust data. We looked at the first step up the management ladder—frontline leaders—in two generations: Millennials (born 1982-2000) and Generation X (1965-1981). A data point plotted closer to the center of the graph shows lower performance, while one plotted toward the outside shows higher performance.

This graph plots the collective leadership abilities related to eight common competencies.
This graph plots the collective leadership abilities related to eight common competencies.

As this graph illustrates:

  • The Millennial generation performs well when it comes to Adaptability and Customer Focus.
  • They show some relative weakness when it comes to ability-related competencies, such as Decision Making and Planning and Organizing, and on the motivation-related competency of Work Standards.
  • Millennials and Generation Xers are very similar in key leadership and interpersonal skills, including Developing Others, Gaining Commitment, and Communication.

So, this set of data indicates that Millennials are, in fact, a viable talent pool for your open leadership positions. Of course each individual within a population will have different strengths and different reasons why they’ve developed a strength—but the general assumption that Millennials lack what it takes to develop and motivate others is not supported by our data.

Because the strengths of Millennial and Generation X leaders often complement each other, it’s beneficial for all involved to create opportunities for leaders of different ages to work together and learn from one another, such as on a project team or task force, or in a mentoring relationship.

In considering this generational data, it’s worth pointing out that an individual’s readiness to lead must be evaluated in the context of your specific role and specific business situation with well-defined competencies, knowledge, experience, and personal attributes.


Evan Sinar, Ph.D., is a manager in DDI’s assessment technology group.
 

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