Entrepreneurial Millennials: Our Next Generation Leaders

There has been much criticism towards the next generation/millennial mindset and how ill prepared they are for achievement in their careers and success in business as a whole. In a 2013 Time article Joe Stein brands Millennials as overconfident, fame-obsessed narcissists. Stein asserts that this new “Me Me Me Generation has become damaged due to an overdose of self-esteem. 

I am proposing that the next generation has a healthy set of self-esteem combined with a commitment to a much broader set of values that embrace innovation, collaboration and equality and go far beyond self-focus.

Fostering Innovation and Collaboration in Organizations Today

My experience over the last several years has highlighted that regardless of the size or nature of the business itself, the organizations I have worked with are looking for a more engaging and collaborative way of being aimed at bridging siloes and developing creativity and innovation in people.

They have shared with me that they want leaders who:

  • Take risks
  • Are innovative and demonstrate initiative
  • Are collaborative yet confident in their decision making
  • Demonstrate big picture thinking with a strong ability to influence others and build commitment for ideas

What they are asking for is in fact a new way of leading. They want engagement, innovation and risk. They want to influence with collaboration not power and they are looking to co-create solutions. Finally they care about how they show up as leaders and are committed to self-improvement as a result.

Next-Generation Leadership

I had the unique opportunity of recently assessing 26 high potential next-generation leaders in one of Canada’s largest crown corporations. I took the time to ask all participants to share with me their views as to what differentiates the next generation, including:

  • What are they looking for
  • What they bring to organizations, and
  • What will be required from organizations to gain their commitment and loyalty in the long-term

When analyzing their responses it became apparent to me that the generation coming into the workforce today (millennials) has a different value stream and mindset than the generations that preceded it. Their relationship with authority, commitment to personal development, access to information, appetite for change and motivations are different.

Young people come into the workforce highly driven and wanting immediate impact. There is a strong desire to contribute with high expectation for immediate results and growth. They’re well-informed quick to process information and looking for constant stimulation, change and opportunities to engage quickly.

Having grown up with the Internet and access to information at their fingertips there is a high demand for transparency and less tolerance for bureaucracy, hierarchy and protocol. A career opportunity while about the organization they are joining is equally about what is in it for them and how they will benefit from the relationship and long-term commitment. Individuals are less motivated by money. It is a generation that is craving feedback, professional and personal development and is committed to self-improvement while valuing work life balance.

The personal characteristics that capture this next generation include:

  • Individuals who desire to work with a high degree of independence
  • A preference for working with autonomy and limited structure
  • Being empowered and able to work in unique and different ways and
  • To pursue ideas and goals that are risky and opportunistic

There is an excitement and willingness to pursue ideas and act on them quickly and transparently and to experience one’s work as exciting and enjoyable. They look for environments that support personal growth and the opportunity to achieve at the highest level.

The Entrepreneurial Mindset (EMP)

Eckerd College a network associate of the Centre for Creative leadership undertook a project (2010) to develop a comprehensive measure of those personal characteristics, motivations and skill sets that distinguish entrepreneurs from non-entrepreneurs. (www.emindsetprofile.com)

The EMP measures two constructs:

  1. The largely innate features (Personality characteristics) that would make an individual more likely drawn to entrepreneurial endeavors, and
  2. The more malleable features (Skills) that would make an individual more likely to be successful as an entrepreneur.

The personality characteristics describe a profile of individuals with:

  • The desire to work with a high degree of independence
  • Little formal structure
  • A preference for acting in unique ways
  • A willingness to pursue an idea or a desired goal even when the probability of succeeding is low
  • A tendency to show initiative, and make decisions quickly
  • To experience one’s work as exciting and enjoyable and
  • The desire to achieve at a high level

Skills scales that support this mindset include a strong future focus, the ability to generate multiple and novel ideas, to find multiple approaches for achieving goals, the ability to turn ideas into actionable plans, self confidence, optimism, perseverance and interpersonal sensitivity.

What organizations are trying to achieve today and what the next generation embraces is in fact the entrepreneurial mindset.

The challenge facing organizations is to nurture these talents while discovering the leadership practices and organizational structures and cultures that can support them.

When I asked next generation leaders what organizations will need to embrace in the coming decades to meet these needs, they recommended:

  • Developing creative compensation structures – more flexible, not necessarily about money but around lifestyle, wellness and personal development
  • Providing opportunities for personal development as a critical pillar for business
  • Creating platforms to show case millennials’ ability to brainstorm/create technological solutions
  • Supporting the opportunity for change with work rotations, changes in positions, developmental programs and incentives that balance work and play
  • Aiming for flatter organizational structures and increased transparency

In today’s complex business environment where the economic landscape is constantly changing, organizations are committed to becoming more innovative to meet these challenges. At the same time there has been much research and discussion about the challenges facing organizations as they “manage millennials” who have been described as, lazy, impatient and entitled young adults.

What I have learned is that this next generation of leaders is nothing to fear and the mindset that they bring is in fact a gift. It is exactly what organizations need today. Our challenge is to allow this change to take place. We can bring our experience to co-create and support them in creating the organizational and leadership practices that will allow organizations to thrive in the future.

Jennifer MacLeod M.ED, PCC
Ottawa, Ontario