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The Context and Challenge

There are several seismic shifts afoot in organizations, including the way work gets done and the demographics of the workforce as Baby Boomers continue to retire. One change that will undoubtedly redefine the working environment and leadership priorities for a generation is the emergence of the Millennial executive.

Millennials are ascending to senior leadership at a time when working life is defined by change. Talent leaders are commonly asked to select executives with the most management potential; however, finding people who can both manage the organization today and lead in the unpredictable business landscape of the future is a weighty task.

Due to constant and often exponential changes to the business landscape, effective Millennial executives will have to both experience and recreate their organizations simultaneously in a way that is almost unthinkable by historical leadership standards. Further, Millennials are emerging into senior roles 5-10 years earlier than previous generations. CEOs already report being underprepared for the job, and this trend is not likely to reverse. Whether we are in the fourth Industrial Revolution or a time of unprecedented change, it is clear new leadership behaviors are required to deal with the scope and complexity of the marketplace and working life.

Distinguishing Elements of the Successful Millennial Executive

One way to navigate these changes is to identify executives who better understand how to interpret and guide the human factors that power learning and collaboration in the social ecosystems of organizations. In my team’s work and research around emerging executive leadership, we have encountered some remarkable leaders who have afforded us insights into the key facets that distinguish their ability to navigate these challenges. When looking for someone capable of leading into the future, we’ve found that having insight and skill in the following areas is indicative of success:

Creating Space for Developing Themselves and Others

Emerging Millennial executives are placing greater emphasis on development than their predecessors. Relatedly, more leaders are investing in leadership development and placing a greater emphasis on receiving coaching to scale their abilities. Boards are emphasizing talent identification and development, too. In conjunction, these factors point to a significant elevation of human development among corporations’ strategic priorities. Distinguished Millennial executives will respond to this call with a management style that is equal parts savvy leader and psychologist, making development emotionally safe and attainable for both them and their colleagues.

Managing Uncertainty with Purpose

Millennials have defined themselves with an emphasis on contributing to the greater good. Fostering purpose is now often seen as an important retention and engagement strategy. This is leading organizations to clarify their mission statements and increase corporate giving to charitable organizations. The Millennial executive understands that without providing purpose for their teams, their work will not tap into a fundamental driver-performing acts of service. Purpose not only motivates performance, it also invites commitment and determination to address unprecedented challenges. Without purpose the ambiguity and constant change of the modern age can feel overwhelming, if not insurmountable. Purpose replaces uncertainty with perseverance and courage, and ultimately inspires a sense of trust.

Consistently Applying New Learning

A leader’s ability to both pioneer new opportunities and learn from their (and others’) mistakes is central to success in the future business context. The future workforce will have an insatiable need for people who can effectively leverage and enhance new technology. The Millennial executive will have to balance these forces by remaining both attuned to and mindful of the present, yet not overly entrenched in the now. A new class of executives are emerging that are less defined by the consistent application of their technical skillsets and knowledge, and more by intellectual humility and learnability-the application of new knowledge. Successful executives from this generation display an ingrained curiosity that lends to investment in exploratory learning to prepare for future opportunities and develop strategy in a rapidly fluctuating market.

In closing, there is work to be done to decode the successful future leader in a given organization. Millennial executives and aforementioned abilities are still early in their emergence; however, evaluating and promoting leaders with these attributes is likely to set the stage for greater organizational adaptability in tumultuous times.

Image credit: Photo by Buro Millennial from Pexels