New, Rare Research Examines Millennial Leaders' Views on Leadership

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In conjunction with RW2 Enterprises and Development Dimensions International (DDI), The Conference Board released the report, Divergent Views/Common Ground: The Leadership Perspectives of C-Suite Executives and Millennial Leaders. The findings result from interviews, surveys, and focus groups with Millennial leaders, CEOs, and other non-Millennial leaders at the following 14 organizations: Aetna, American Express, athenahealth, The Boeing Company, Cardinal Health, Humana, Johnson & Johnson, Kindred Healthcare, KPMG, Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America, United Rentals, UPS, Verizon Communications, and Xerox. 

The research comes in the wake of an extensive, ongoing departure of Baby Boomers from the U.S. workforce. With each passing day, Millennial leaders assume an increasing role in steering both the nation’s economy and the organizations that comprise it. Yet the subject of their leadership lacks adequate research, with widespread assumptions painting an often inaccurate picture. As such, this research sheds light on their leadership values and preferences; where they agree with and differ from other leadership cohorts and generations; and in light of the findings, what steps organizations can take for enhanced performance. 

“These young leaders will ultimately sit in every leadership seat at every U.S. corporation,” said Ronald A. Williams, CEO of RW2 Enterprises. “The U.S. GDP is currently tipping the scales at ~$18 trillion, and the global economy continues to become increasingly more challenging. It was my view that not only were we missing critical research on Millennial leaders, but we also were missing a fact-based analysis of how Millennial leaders’ views differed from current CEOs and C-suite executives. Their differences are not necessarily right or wrong, but understanding how to bridge between the two will be crucial to the future of our economy.” 

Contrary to conventional thought, Millennial leaders hold much in common with other generations and CEOs. However, some significant differences exist, which include but are not limited to the following: 

  • In the eyes of Millennial leaders, a future leader succeeds globally through adeptness at the interpersonal and interaction facets of leadership. CEOs see an ideal future leader as one who focuses more on efficient decision-making and business know-how. 
  • While Millennial leaders care about social values, including organizations contributing to a cleaner environment and giving back to the community, somewhat surprisingly, CEOs place a bigger premium on these. 
  • Millennial leaders have different workplace design preferences than CEOs think: they do not want low-hierarchy organizational structures or open design. 

“In light of rising global competition and seismic demographic shifts, organizations must place a laser-like focus on cultivating their Millennial leaders,” said Rebecca L. Ray, report co-author and Executive Vice President, Knowledge Organization at The Conference Board. “Our new research provides insights to help realize the full potential of these rising stars, along with the organizations of which they will increasingly take the reins.” 

Despite their differences, leaders across the spectrum (Millennial, non-Millennial, and CEOs) voiced much agreement, in areas which include but are not limited to the following: 

  • All place “arrogance and avoidance” as top leadership derailers. 
  • All rank “engaging and inspiring employees” as the skills that matter most for getting leaders from one level to the next. Among CEOs, these skills were tied with “managing and successfully introducing change.” 
  • All say that it is important that the company “operates based on ethical values, not just legal obligations;” “preserves the profitability of its business operations” and “takes actions guided by the needs of all stakeholders.” 
  • All say that “leading through transformation” is the top leadership experience that shapes leadership competence and motivation. 


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