With the ongoing departure of Baby Boomers from the U.S. workforce, Millennial leaders are set to assume an increasing role in steering the nation’s economy and the organizations that comprise it.

The Conference Board, concerned that assumptions about the younger generation may be painting an inaccurate picture, decided to research the matter of Millennials’ leadership.

The Conference Board’s new report, Divergent Views/Common Ground: The Leadership Perspectives of C-Suite Executives and Millennial Leaders, contains the findings from interviews, surveys and focus groups with Millennial leaders, CEOs, and other non-Millennial leaders at 14 organizations: Aetna, American Express, athenahealth, The Boeing Co., Cardinal Health, Humana, Johnson & Johnson, Kindred Healthcare, KPMG, Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America, United Rentals, UPS, Verizon Communications and Xerox.

“These young leaders will ultimately sit in every leadership seat at every U.S. corporation,” said Ronald A. Williams, CEO of RW2 Enterprises, noting that 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,” Williams said.

Millennials are between the ages of 18-34 and number more than 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million Baby Boomers, according to Pew Research.

The Conference Board research sheds light on the leadership values and preferences of today’s CEOs and Millennial leaders; 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.

It turns out that 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.

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.

The report also features recommendations for organizations and leaders across generational cohorts, some of which are:

  • Start or amplify the dialogue to resolve the discrepancy in future leader skills. If organizations turn a blind eye in this area, both Millennial leaders and CEOs will be frustrated with what top leaders become. Millennial leaders will develop themselves in a fashion that may contrast sharply with what today’s CEOs believe is important for successful leadership.
  • Reinforce the corporate imperatives of ethics, profitability, stakeholder needs, and environmental responsibility. Research has found that companies with a well-defined social mission tend to outperform their peers in revenue growth.
  • Address the “I’ll need to leave if I want to keep ascending” misperception. More so than their older peers, Millennial leaders are more likely to feel that they will need to change organizations to reach the highest leadership level.

“While the similarities in leadership perspectives far outnumber the differences, there are some significant divergent views that need to be addressed,” said Rich Wellins, senior vice president of DDI.

Source: The Conference Board