It is hard to remember a time when instant newsfeeds, social media followers, or Wi-Fi hotspots were not a part of the vernacular of the day. The rapidly shrinking world, the mobile workforce, and the shifting attitudes of society have developed a work environment that differs greatly from the past. The rising generation’s worldview is completely different than that of their predecessors; and this often leads to clashes between leadership and workers. The reality is that many of the great leaders of the past would be shocked at the expectations of the workforce and find their methods of leadership ineffective.
Over the last 15 years, the leadership role has evolved into a position that would be unrecognizable to the business magnates of the last century. How can today’s leaders be effective in a workplace staffed by a new type of employee? Is there a way to capitalize on the strengths of yesterday’s leaders while embracing the new work environment favored by the millennial workforce?
1. Focus on the follower, not the leader.
The leader-centric model, favored by the previous generation, relies on the leader making a decision and merely conveying the necessary information to the rest of the team, who are expected to comply. To engage the millennial generation, today’s leaders must use their influence—basing their leadership on a sense of mutual respect and trust between the parties. It is through a sense of community that these employees feel welcomed to suggest ideas, take ownership of their job responsibilities, and develop a sense of loyalty to both the leader and the company.
Many leadership experts believe that the outdated hierarchy of a top-down leadership model has been replaced with a management team that includes employees from every aspect of the business. This cross-section of leaders provides a broader sense of the company and allows individual team-members to showcase their strengths and maximize their potentials.
2. Widen the scope of decision making.
Volumes of material have been written about leadership styles, the best ways to lead, the habits of successful leaders, and more. However, it is difficult to find books that describe how to manage the evolving workforce. One of the primary reasons for this may be that the world is changing so quickly. Regardless, modern leaders must enlarge their vision to include new strategies and goals.
Young employees are looking for more self-determination. Decision making strategies should be broad, with a variety of options for employees to choose from as they see fit. What works in one scenario may not be appropriate in another, and employees want the latitude to determine which method is best.
3. Embrace a global workforce.
The world is shrinking, thanks to the power of the Internet. As a result, a leader’s “team” may be composed of people in countries across the globe. To ensure their success, the leader must have a basic understanding of and appreciation for different cultures. Additionally, the leader must become adept at adopting new methods of communication with team members that may work opposing schedules. Instead of holding weekly staff meetings, the leader may be using e-mail, video conferencing, CRM programs, and other technology-driven platforms to communicate with staff. While the methodology may be different, the need for open communication is important; the leader must adapt to the changing methods of communicating.
4. Empower decision makers.
A steady stream of information and news is available 24 hours a day. The use of social media has given rise to well-informed consumers and employees. Unlike in previous eras, consumers are not content to wait for the boss to make accommodations or concessions, they will simply move on to the next vendor to get what they need. An employee who is not empowered to make on-the-spot decisions will likely become frustrated at their bosses’ inability to trust them. Particularly in fast-paced environments, it is highly likely that the employee knows more about products or services than the leader. Empowering team members to make decisions as needed, and then supporting their decision making is crucial to successfully working with millennials.
The entrance of millennials into the workplace has brought some much-needed changes to the “old-school” methods of leadership. It has also brought its own set of challenges and difficulties. Trying to lead a new breed of employees using traditional methods of leadership can result in frustration and dissatisfaction with jobs. By understanding what millennials look for, it is more likely that they will be engaged and fulfilled in their job and will ensure that the leader can be effective.