By 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be made up of millennials. How will our companies, industries, and even world look different? How will millennials choose to lead? To imagine this not too distance future we can look back to how millennials were raised and predict how their unique experiences will shape their values and characteristics as leaders.
The millennial take over has already begun, with many employees between the ages of 37 and 24 holding leadership positions at top companies. We’re aware of some of the big names such as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp of Pinterest, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger of Instagram, and Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowski of Dropbox. These current prototype millennial leaders have effectively taken over tech, becoming some of the youngest, most recognizable successful CEO’s of our time. They’ve gotten a quick start, but what will the rest of the future leaders look like as they catch-up. Here’s what we know.
Millennials number 80 million individuals, the largest generation yet, born between 1983 and 1992, and they differ in many ways from past generations. For starters, millennials were the first generation to have constant access to the news, when CNN began broadcasting around the clock in 1980. This constant and immediate access to breaking stories gave millennials a sense of urgency and made the world feel smaller and more connected from the time they could comprehend the world around them. This comes into play as they take on leadership roles, because they have an ingrained understanding of the importance of connecting with their audience, adapting quickly, and embracing change.
Millennials were also born into a state of flux, experiencing the cold wear in the 80s and being old enough to remember vividly where they were when they first learned about 9/11. That followed a highly-televised Iraq war that made conflict feel familiar and change seem inevitable. Millennial’s are agile, quick to adjust and constantly looking for the next big thing both personally and professionally. As leaders, this will allow them to adjust their business strategy, adapt quickly and be on the lookout and stay at the forefront of positive change.
Millennials are also a generation raised on social media. From Myspace to YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, millennials are connected now more than ever before with not only their peers but their coworkers, bosses, clients, and strangers. Millennials had access to all this data and information before they even entered the workforce. Because they were raised maintaining an online identity, they are critically aware of the risks as well as the benefits that come along with it. As leaders, millennials will use all of this to their advantage, marketing directly to customers, embracing the evolving world of social media, and continuing to create the news before journalists through social media.
The millennial generation will lead with a focus on sustainability, preservation and, social conscience like no generation before. Raised during a period of critical social awareness and change, climate change, same-sex marriage, the legalization of marijuana, healthcare reform and immigration reform were hotly debated topics during their upbringing and young adult lives. Combine this with the never ending news cycles, and constant access to information from around the world via smartphone or tablet, and it becomes nearly impossible for them to turn a blind eye to the issues facing their local and global communities. Millennials are also the most racially and ethnically diverse generation with 43% of adults self-identifying as non-white. Millennial executives will sacrifice profit to keep their company sustainable and socially conscious. Benefit corporations, where the business has a mission to do social good, will become much more common and even expected by consumers. In fact, some popular companies with young leaders at the helm have positioned themselves, very successfully, as benefit corps such by including a mission to better the world as a part of their business model. Who doesn’t feel good when they buy a pair of TOMS shoes or a glasses from Warby Parker, knowing a donation will be made to someone in need?
The shift to a consumer-focused business model is becoming more common as millennial executives begin to fill the seats at our companies. During the boom in app creation in the early 2000s entrepreneurs began to ask the question “what can I get consumers to pay for? What do they want that isn’t currently available?” And the answer: A lot. One tap on your smartphone and a car comes directly to you to bring you where you want to go. The ability to see friends and family in real time from anywhere around the world. An online marketplace to purchase handcrafted, personalized crafts. Uber, Skype and Etsy were all created from a consumer minded focus, and as our executive positions are filled by millennials the business models in our companies will inevitably make this shift as well.
While it’s easy to point out the negatives that this generation brings to the table as leaders, for example their tendency to hop around from job to job, work multiple jobs at once, and avoid long term vision and sustainability, it’s inevitable that this is the future of the executive leader and it would be wise to be prepared. The next 10-15 years will transform the way people work the more than any other time period in history. While the naysayers view millennials inability to sit still and grow roots as a negative, there are many ways that it benefits both the individuals and the businesses they work for, and the industries and communities they are a part of.
We can sit back and watch the change happen around us, or jump in and join the revolution.
Photo: SFGate, John Sebastian Russo, Special To The Chronicle