-Challenges Leaders Will Face...

    Bob Woolverton wrote this paper during his undergraduate work at Bluefield College.  In the paper he discusses the future with Millennials in the workplace.  Every generation has voiced concerns about the commitment or ability of the next following generation, but regardless of the current workplace dialogue, the reality is Millennials are the smartest generation ever entering the workplace, not necessarily because they are better educated - although in many cases they are - but because they have greater access to more information than any generation before them.

    Millennials, like every generation before them, values different things than previous generations, and at the same time Millennials have the ability to be the stimulus to some of the greatest advancements ever.

Challenges Leaders Will Face in the Future

            Historically people worked for a company nearly their entire life, perhaps changing employers once or twice in a lifetime.  In exchange for that long-term employment workers were committed and loyal to the company they worked for.  However, times are changing and long-term employment and long-term commitment to one company are things of the past – something you mostly read about in history books.  In America we have a new generation coming into the workforce that is unlike any generation preceding it, and with that uniqueness that generation brings its own challenges for businesses of the future.  The new generation in today’s workforce is called the Millennials.

            Millennials are people who were born between 1981 and the year 2000; they are the people in the workforce who are thirty-two years young or younger.  Within this generation America has raised a workforce that has more focus on themselves, more focus on work-life balance, and as a result will bring a host of challenges for finding, developing, and keeping executive-level business leaders not only for today but also for the future.  Those challenges include finding sufficient numbers of leaders from this generation, as well as keeping them engaged, keeping them ethical, teaching them the face-to-face social imperatives of leadership, and building self-awareness of how they are perceived so when we do find them, they can and will be effective leaders.

Supply and Demand

            While the demand for executive-level leaders is increasing, the supply of qualified executive-level leaders is decreasing.  Estimating a 2 percent economic growth rate suggests over the next fifteen years executive positions will increase by about one-third.  Additionally, over the next five years twenty percent of top leaders are expected to vacate their positions.  With all of those available positions on the horizon business schools have not been graduating enough business leadership candidates to keep pace with the growing number of vacancies (Zaccaro & Klimoski, 2001, p. 307).

            Even when you can find a qualified leader keeping them on the job is trickier not only from a generational perspective, but from a business perspective also.  A survey of 1,300 incidents of CEO’s leaving Fortune 500 firms between 1980 and 1996 showed that in one-third of all those cases the CEO was fired, and more interesting the survey showed CEO’s hired after 1985 were three times more likely to get fired than those hired before that date.  The sudden increase in firings is a result of businesses realizing it is bad for their reputation to keep a bad CEO and at the same time Wall Street investors are becoming more demanding of CEO performance (Thank you and goodbye, 1999).  Additionally, job mobility is on the rise.  Historically high performing CEO’s might have changed employers just once, or perhaps twice during a career.  Currently the trend is for top performers to change companies five times in a career, and in another ten years that trend may increase to ten changes in a career (Chambers, Handfield-Jones, Hankin, & Michaels III, 1998).

Ethics and Intrinsic Values

            Younger executives, especially those out of business school may be more inclined to breach corporate ethical standards.  Research suggests business students may be less ethical than other students.  Several related studies showed students entering law school had more of an outward ethical focus on doing the right thing to help others, whereas the students entering business school had more of a self-centered focus and as a result tended to make less ethical decisions than students entering law school (Daboub, Rasheed, Priem, & Gray, 1995).  Millennials are frequently characterized as being self-absorbed, and surveys show Millennials themselves agree with that characterization.

            Millennials are perceived by others in the workplace as being autonomous, entitled, imaginative, self-absorbed, defensive, abrasive, myopic, unfocused, and indifferent.  Surprisingly enough, when researchers surveyed hundreds of millennials about these perceptions the millennials agreed with those perceptions.  The millennials agreed with those perceptions because they believe the intrinsic values they hold in high esteem cause their generation to be perceived that way.  Millennials describe their highly-regarded intrinsic values as, work-life balance, reward, self-expression, attention, achievement, informality, simplicity, multitasking, and meaning (Espinoza, Ukleja, & Rusch, 2011).

Social Skills vs. Text Messaging

            Millennials will also be challenged by the social imperative of leadership.  They are the first generation that doesn’t feel a need to get answers from a mentor or other authority figure.  Their primary gateway to information is the Internet.  The term, “I don’t know” does not exist in a millennial’s vocabulary because the answer is just one internet search away.  Because of this millennials do not have an innate need to reach up and tap into their leader’s experience or knowledge (Espinoza, Ukleja, & Rusch, 2011).  Millennials have been raised in a praise-based environment and do not have any self-perceptions that include doubt about their abilities.  Additionally, because of their high-tech nature of communication millennials will have difficulty with the social skills needed for executive-level leadership.  “…at the executive level, human relation skills are important for fostering positive, constructive relationships with the stakeholders of the organization” (Zaccaro & Klimoski, 2001, p. 107).  Millennials have spent that majority of their lifetime with text messaging as their preferred method of communication.  Text messaging limits messages to 160 characters per message and was originally intended for situations where voice communication was impossible or undesirable but millennials have substituted text messaging for the majority of their communication.  This will prove particularly challenging for millennials in developing the necessary social skills of an executive-level leader.


            It will be important for millennials to get some understanding of how others perceive them in the workplace.  A 360-degree feedback methodology can do exactly that.  “Self-awareness is about seeing oneself as other see us.  It involves modifying one’s perceptions of oneself as a result of receiving feedback from others and modifying one’s behavior as a result.  It is therefore, not surprising that those managers who see themselves most similarly to how their ‘others’ see them are also perceived as most effective” (Alimo-Metcalfe, 1998).  Studies have shown when a leader’s self perception is closer to the perception of them held by their followers their acceptance by the group as a leader, and their overall effectiveness as a leader is substantially improved.  A lack of self-knowledge may lead to inappropriate behavior or incorrect assumptions about their interactions with subordinates and lead to overall poor leadership performance.  Interestingly 360-degree feedback studies show managers’ self-ratings of their leadership ability are inflated with one exception.  The findings are that women tend to rate themselves lower than they are rated by their subordinates.  Yet at the same time women managers on average were judged to be more effective and satisfying to work for and generated extra effort from their subordinates.  “What is now emerging is that women are significantly more likely to be perceived by their staff as adopting the model of leadership that has been found to be the most effective in dealing with the current turbulent environments which organizations face” (Alimo-Metcalfe, 1998).

            Studies have shown traits of unsuccessful leaders include insensitivity to others, intimidation, arrogance, lack of trustworthiness, and micro-management (Gardner & Reece, 2012).  Yet many of these are the same or similar qualities we see in studies of millennials, entitled, self-absorbed, and abrasive (Espinoza, Ukleja, & Rusch, 2011).  This is an indication it will be imperative for millennial leaders to have a strong sense of self-awareness.  One researcher has cited humility in leaders as the number one predictor of widespread organizational loyalty (Collins, 2001).  It will be through self-awareness and humility that millennials will become the leaders of the future.  As businesses develop their own leaders for the future they will need to provide them with a variety of developmental experiences.  Through challenging job assignments future leaders will learn valuable lessons about implementing agendas and handling relationships with others.  Difficult challenges with temporary set-backs or failures teach lessons about personal limitations and humility (Zaccaro & Klimoski, 2001, p. 365).  These are the exact nature of experiences and lessons-learned millennials will need to be effective leaders of tomorrow.


            Millennials will bring new challenges to the workplace, especially as they move into executive-level leadership positions.  Studies show they are likely to change employers frequently, and have a different set of intrinsic values and capabilities.  Millennials may lack social skills and may need assistance with ethical development.  However, all generations have voiced concerns about the next following generation and millennials are no exception.  Fortunately the business world is better informed and has better capabilities to address the changes of the next generation who will soon appear on the leadership stage.



Alimo-Metcalfe, B. (1998). 360 Degree feedback and leadership development. International Journal of Selection & Assessment, 6(1), 10.

Chambers, E. G., Handfield-Jones, H., Hankin, S. M., & Michaels III, E. G. (1998). Win the war for top talent. Workforce, 77(12), 50-56.

Collins, J. (2001). Good to great. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Daboub, A. J., Rasheed, A. M., Priem, R. L., & Gray, D. A. (1995). Top management team characteristics and corporate illegal activity. Academy of Management Review, 20(1), 138-170.

Espinoza, C., Ukleja, M., & Rusch, C. (2011). Core competencies for leading today's workforce. Leader to Leader, 59, 18-23. doi:doi:10.1002/ltl.450

Gardner, B., & Reece, J. (2012). Revolutionizing policing through servant-leadership and quality management. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 81(6), 25-32.

Thank you and goodbye. (1999, October 28). Retrieved April 20, 2013, from The Economist: http://www.economist.com/node/254154

Zaccaro, S. J., & Klimoski, R. J. (Eds.). (2001). The nature of organizational leadership: Understanding the performance imperatives confronting today's leaders. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.