Leadership development is not working for Millennials

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There are four key things lacking in this cohort's leadership development

Millennials were born between 1984 and 2000 and are currently either in or stepping into senior-level leadership roles across all sectors. We interviewed 500 of them to get an understanding of the cultures they are creating, how they have been developed as leaders, and the opportunities and challenges they have faced.

Millennial leaders told us four key things that were lacking or not working in their own leadership development.

1. Lack of focus on purpose, values and ethos

Millennials are passionate about working for organisations that share the same purpose, values and ethos as themselves, but identified the need to develop their own sense of purpose, values and ethos so that they can clearly articulate their 'authentic voice' and that of the organisation.

2. Failure to address identity issues

Millennials identified fear of failure and need for approval as the two key negative things that are affecting their own leadership. There is a lack of self-confidence and a need to focus on teaching about identity.

3. Leadership development is isolated from real-world challenges

Millennials understand that they are leading in a volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous (VUCA) environment. Therefore more than ever they need leadership development that is rooted in real-life problems and wrestling with difficult issues and conflict. They are a generation that wants to be mentored and coached, not trained in a classroom. They desire real-life application specific to a culture and environment.

4. Too much focus on skills and knowledge, not enough on character and attitude

More than ever Millennials are recognising that leaders lead from within. They lead from who they are and who they are becoming. Therefore they desire more focus on learning about integrity, inner strength, authenticity and vulnerability and frankly how to be more human, more themselves.

What can be done to change the way we develop leaders?

Firstly, we can create high-challenge high-support environments – where leaders can learn on the job, fail, pick themselves up and learn to walk the high-wire again. Environments in which leaders are developed on the job in a focused and intentional way.

Secondly, we can create a bi-directional mentoring culture – where Millennials are learning from but also mentoring upwards as well. The change in culture and world view is so dramatic that mentoring in both directions is essential.

Thirdly, focus on developing the identity of leaders – helping them to articulate their values and beliefs in such a way that they are able to lead confidently from their own identity.

Fourthly, focus on wellbeing and sustainable impact, encouraging an approach to leadership development that creates inner strength and the ability to bounce back from failure while building resilience for the long term.

Finally, create a leadership journey within your organisation, recognising that leadership is caught as well as taught and involves knowledge, skills and attitude. Build in training, but also reading, reflection, and most importantly application and accountability with a mentor.

Millennials more than anything are future-orientated. They are already looking to raise up the next generation and want to learn the skills to have influence, to build long-lasting relationships and to deal with conflict and change. Engage them in developing the leadership development journey of the future.

Simon Barrington is the founder and director of Forge Leadership and the author of Leading the Millennial Way

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