Millennials in the boardroom: the future of leadership

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Ian Hawkins

This is an abridged version of an article that will be published in full as part of the PEX Report 2018.

Mark Zuckerberg’s outfit was deserving of the full red carpet post mortem when he gave evidence to congress earlier this year. In a suit and tie, the Facebook boss was the snapshot image of anxiety about Millennials, a portent of the future that understands and exploits the trappings of the past. What do Millennials mean for business, culture, politics? How do businesses attract them as customers? How are they shaking up the workplace? Can we court their vote, sell them what they want, answer their needs and negotiate the future together?  


The most conspicuous anxiety about Millennials is around the question that very few people are actually asking: what are they going to be like when they get into the board room? The focus has been on Millennials as consumers and voters – think of mortgage apps, restaurants plating up meals with an eye on Instagram, political campaigns being clandestinely fought on social media - but what are they going to be like as leaders?


Whether you’ve got a colleague or a boss who’s a Millennial – or you want to attract Millennials to your leadership team – here are some of the key factors that will make or break your relationship with this generation.




Changing definitions: a fresh look at leadership

There is a huge appetite among Millennials for positions of leadership. According to the Workplace Trends Millennial Leadership Survey, ‘91% of Millennials aspire to be a leader and out of that, 52% were women.’ Within that drive for leadership is a willingness to re-evaluate what it means to be a leader: ‘When asked about the type of leader they aspire to be, 63% chose “transformational”, which means they seek to challenge and inspire their followers with a sense of purpose and excitement.’

If 93% of millennials realize their ambitions, though, there will be a case of too many chiefs – unless the workplace itself radically changes to incorporate flatter hierarchies, more autonomy, and more collaboration.




Volatility: if they aren't happy, they will jump ship

The job for life is a rarity – and young people have no expectation that the job they take on leaving education is going to bear much resemblance to the job they expect to have a decade (or less) hence.

But a few cool decals and a pool table won’t necessarily keep them on board for long: figures show 91% of those born between 1977 and 1997 expect to stay in a job for less than three years. 

Remember the stats about wanting to be a leader? That points clearly in the direction of self employment. We may be on the brink of a boom in niche SMEs powered by advances in smart accounting software that becomes available at low cost to business owners.





Inside the company…

Forget the work/life balance; Millennials don’t consider these to be competing for attention – so long as it is productive, enjoyable and good for you, work is life. There is an expectation that organizations have to look after their employees, according to an American Express report



…and outside.

According to research by CSR consultancy Cone, 70% of millennials will spend more on brands supporting causes they care about. Certain charities are, to some extent, the symptom of an unequal society. If charities exist to fix problems, they become unnecessary when the problems themselves are eradicated by organizations behaving more properly in the first place.




Add together the flat hierarchy, the absence of managers, the increased reliance on interpersonal skills while the computers deal with the data, and organizations as dedicated to making the world better as they are to turning a profit, and you have a blueprint for how the workplace of the future may look.

Transformation is change on steroids. The OPEX Benchmarking Survey 2018 tells us that people are at the heart of what we do in Operational Excellence. The promise of technology is that it will ultimately free us from routine, robotic tasks and enable us all to be more human. What does it mean to be ‘more human’? Are humans changing? Exciting times lie ahead!


The full version of this condensed article will be published in the PEX Report (due for release in September 2018).