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Millennial Leaders

Global Leadership Forecast 2018

The Rise of the Digital Natives:

Are Millennials Ready to Lead?

Amanda Popiela

Millennials are digital natives. They grew up in a digital environment and seem to embrace technology in all aspects of their lives. Although we often take for granted that this generation will lead us in digitization, are Millennials really up to the challenge? Perhaps not as much as we would hope. When comparing preparedness to meet nine critical business challenges (such as navigating through complexity, chaos, and confusion; and acting decisively without always having clear direction), Millennials—the generation born between 1982 and 2000—generally agree with their Baby Boomer and Generation X counterparts about the challenges for which they feel most and least prepared.

The Rise of the Digital Natives

Are Millennials Ready to Lead with Digitization?

Leader assessment of effectiveness at three digital leadership skillsMillennials feel slightly more prepared to operate within a highly digital business environment than do Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, but all generations could use more development in this area. Even for Millennials, it ranks third from the bottom. Given that Millennials grew up with technology, we might think that these digital skills would be second nature. However, it seems that they need additional preparation and training to really excel at leading in the digital space.

In addition, Millennials rated themselves as slightly more effective at digital literacy and leading with digitization skills than members of Gen X and Baby Boomers did. Millennials are less confident in their effectiveness at leading virtual teams, perhaps because they lack overall experience in leading teams.

Again, although Millennials rated themselves as more effective than their older counterparts at some digital skills, these skills were rated low across all generations. Organizations will need to step up to prepare leaders to keep pace with rapidly evolving technology advancements. They would be wise to arrange additional training or to revamp hiring and collaboration strategies to flow digital experts into more functions.

Differences Due to Generation or Life Stage?

In 2017, The Conference Board and DDI collaborated on the research report Divergent Views/Common Ground: The Leadership Perspectives of C-Suite Executives and Millennial Leaders.* In that report, we found that much of the difference we often attribute to generation is more closely related to career or life stage. Millennial preferences are not largely different from those of previous generations at similar points in their careers.

We found this to be true in Global Leadership Forecast 2018 as well. As leaders climb the management ladder, they rate their effectiveness at mastering leadership skills higher. Higher-level leaders, regardless of generation, are more effective at connecting ideas, driving execution, and aligning toward common objectives. But there are some generational differences as well. Millennial leaders:

  • Rate their intellectual curiosity higher than other generations.
  • Are more likely to seek feedback and input from colleagues and mentors.
  • Are more likely to want “stretch” assignments.
* Ray, R.L., et al.(2017, January), Divergent Views/Common Ground: The Leadership Perspectives of C-Suite Executives and Millennial Leaders, New York, The Conference Board.

Where to Start
  • Build programs that leverage Millennial strengths. Millennial strength in digitization and comfort with using data to guide business decisions can enhance digital skills across the organization.
  • Take advantage of Millennials’ digital ability. One way to do this is through reverse mentoring programs. Millennials can share digital literacy and social media savvy, while more experienced employees can share their organizational knowledge to ensure that it’s not lost.
How to Excel + Differentiate
  • Define your company’s current digital capabilities. Consider the digital skills leaders of all generations will need to move the organization forward. Then, articulate your digital strategy to the organization so that leaders can improve their own skills as needed.
  • Ensure that your leaders are equipped to lead with digitization. Create a task force of Millennials to involve them as part of the strategy development. If additional expertise is needed, evaluate options for building or acquiring it.
Talk to an Expert: Millennial Leaders
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