There a huge crisis ahead, and nobody is talking about it. It’s a crisis that puts the future of everything we have built and know right now at risk. It’s a crisis of leadership.
We are in the middle of a major generational change in tide. Baby Boomers are moving out of leadership roles altogether, and Gen X into more senior positions. This is happening across business, politics, family dynamics, and any form of tribe. This sweeping tide is leaving a leadership chasm in the front lines, where people first jump in to a cause, a company, or a community. There will be fewer and fewer people there to inspire the rest of us to be involved in something bigger than ourselves and make a difference. Why? Because Millennials don’t want to lead.
So what’s going on.
It starts with what it “means” to be leader today. The leadership landscape is filled with false prophets. People who love the idea of being a leader and the perks that come with it. Deep down, though, they seek power for their own gain. These “leaders” say one thing and do another, they first think about themselves and then about the broader community, and they sacrifice little but gain a lot.
Unfortunately, there are far too many of these so-called leaders, and they have redefined the term for the worse. This is especially true for Millennials. Talking to them you remember that they grew up hearing about Enron’s greed, Wall Street’s hubris, and Pay-to-play politics. The narrative around leadership was filled to the brim with cautionary tales and constant disappointments. Leadership stories that inspire us to greatness have been few and far between. The safest interpretation of what means to be a leader is to be cynical about the whole idea.
No wonder only 22% of Millennials are even remotely interested in becoming a leader. Even among those who are interested in the idea they see it only as a means to an end of furthering their career. A likely factor? Most companies don’t even consider training their Millennial leaders as a top priority over the next two years. Not sure what came first, the chicken or the egg, but I know for sure nobody is getting any omelettes any time soon because of all of this.
This trend is so damn depressing because the possibility of more Millennial leaders is such a hopeful vision.
Why Millennial Leaders Are The Heroes We Need
We are a few steps away from transforming the sorry standard for leadership forever. All we have to do is coax the potential already within this generation of millions.
We need Millennials to lead because they already possess the characteristics needed to be a great leader. Here’s a sample:
Idealistic: Millennials want to make a “positive impact” in the world, and a bunch of other silly things we laugh at. Stop and think of a few laser-focused leaders who want to change the world, regardless of how unrealistic it may be. How many of us consider Elon Musk and Malala pie-in-the-sky fools? What if we had millions of leaders passionate about making tectonic shifts in how we work together, the value we create, and the world we live in? Isn’t this an instant upgrade from millions of bosses trying to squeeze out the largest possible bonus?
Curious: “Why can’t Millennials stay put?” Actually, they can and do, it just takes a bit more to keep them engaged. They want challenges that help them stretch and learn. As the most educated generation ever, they are feverishly curious. In order for a leader to be future-read and nimble in times of change they need be constantly learning, not be stubborn in their knowledge.
Selfless: Yes, in order to be an effective leader, you need to take charge. But what’s often missing in defining effective leadership is the work that happens before and after the charge. A leader is also a coach, a servant, and a valuable asset to the team. Leaders help connect their team to a larger mission in order to inspire great feats, and they make each success about the team, not about themselves. A leader who acts like this truly has followers; one who doesn’t is only exercising temporary power and a flash of influence.
The current brand of leadership is uninspiring and inauthentic for the vast majority of Millennials. Millennials are next up to take the mantle, but are unfortunately faced with a definition that is as foreign as VHS tapes.
In order to make leadership resonate it needs to be framed as an authentic, purpose-driven, and growth opportunity. Big paychecks, corner offices, or having the final word don’t cut it anymore. Mainly because these are artifacts closely associated with the dark side of leadership that crowd the headlines. We need to show Millennials how leading others to achieve spectacular things can be one of the most fulfilling adventures one can take. We need to offer a brand of leadership that doesn’t make them lose their humanity in the process.
The leadership crisis has already begun, but will come at full force over the next 2-3 years as Millennials reach an age when first-time leadership roles usually arrive. What will happen when Millennials are unwilling to take those roles, or, even worse, take them but don’t have the support or motivation to do them well?
The idea of “leadership” needs a major reboot. It needs a remix. Shoot, it needs a whole new record label and new arrangements. We need Millennials to see the impact they can have as leaders, and to do that we need a new framework that highlights purpose and humanity more, and flash and hubris less. We need to because we need them now.