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Updated Apr 10, 2024

What Do Millennials Want in a Modern Leader?

Traditional leadership styles aren't enough for today's workforce.

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Written By: Jennifer PostSenior Writer & Expert on Business Strategy
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Millennials are the largest generation in today’s workforce, bringing with them expectations and values in stark contrast to old-school office culture. Millennials challenge traditional leadership styles and demand communication, relationship-building and empowerment in their work lives. 

To lead an organization staffed with millennials successfully, understanding their desires, needs and expectations is crucial. We’ll explore the key leadership components millennials expect and share the essential traits of millennial leaders all businesses should understand.

What do millennials want in a leader?

Businesses that want to attract and retain talented millennial employees must implement leadership structures that resonate with this group. Millennials value the following crucial elements in their work life and look for leadership teams that can provide the following: 

  • Mission-based role assignment: To appeal to this segment, businesses must ensure their mission statements serve a compelling purpose beyond merely selling a product or service to the market.
  • Acknowledgment of life outside of work: Leaders must understand that their millennial employees’ needs and concerns outside of work directly impact their work performance. Additionally, millennials with families want their employers to address crucial issues like health insurance and paid leave for parental responsibilities. 
  • Attention as an individual, not a group: Millennials want true leaders who can look at each individual employee holistically, seeing specific strengths and needs and recognizing what’s best for them. 
  • Encouragement to work toward something greater than themselves: Millennials’ workplace needs are driven by a desire to find a life purpose and fulfillment. Business leaders must align this compelling mission to individual millennial workers’ roles to help them feel fulfilled.
FYIDid you know
According to Glassdoor, there were 49.5 million millennials in the labor force as of 2023 ― and Gen Z won't outnumber them at work until the 2040s.

Modern leadership styles for leading millennials

When implementing leadership teams for a millennial workforce, keep the following leadership styles in mind:

1. You must be innovative to lead millennials.

For millennials, successful leaders don’t just think outside the box ― they also hire outside it and expect the same unconventional thinking from their recruits. Innovation in business requires innovative leaders who focus on the big picture and understand that significant risk-taking is necessary to achieve the next big thing.

With innovative leadership, you’ll likely find fewer protocols and processes. Instead, these leaders push the company to see what successes shake out from unorthodox approaches.

2. You must be employee-focused to lead millennials.

Millennials want leaders who create an employee-centric company culture that ensures their employees’ overall happiness and success. These leaders invest personally and professionally in their team members. They work to understand their needs and goals and help them achieve those goals. They often implement mentorship programs, invest in employee training, seek out professional development opportunities and provide continuous education, often on behalf of the company.

3. You must be empathetic to lead millennials.

Millennials want increased empathy in leadership. They feel that companies that strive for empathetic leadership create good people managers who can listen to and understand employees, ultimately improving the workplace culture for productivity and, in turn, success.

Did You Know?Did you know
According to Deloitte's Millennial and Gen Z Survey, nearly 4 in 10 millennials feel stressed at work most or all the time and 52 percent say they live paycheck-to-paycheck.

4. You must be transformative to lead millennials.

Managers must try to encourage and inspire their millennial employees to focus on the company’s future success through innovation and real change. This focus helps create an empowered company culture of autonomous team members working on groundbreaking ideas. This management style eschews micromanaging. It also lets employees know they play a significant part in the company’s success and control their future within it.

Millennials want to be trusted to do the job they were hired to do, which contributes to the appeal of this leadership style.

5. You must be committed to diversity to lead millennials.

Millennials want leaders who prioritize diversity and inclusion. These leaders should look beyond typical hiring channels and successfully recruit people from all walks of life, understanding that with diversity comes fresh perspectives. Typically at the forefront of social justice movements for change, these leaders aren’t willing to stray from their belief that welcoming everyone ― regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity or sexuality ― only enhances the company’s culture and growth.

Did You Know?Did you know
Millennials and younger workers are also encouraging companies to embrace flexible work policies that improve the work-life balance.

Traits of millennial leaders

Along with how to lead them, it is essential to analyze what millennials bring to the table as leaders. Here are a few leadership skills millennials offer:

1. Millennials are more willing to speak out.

Traditional leaders maintain the organizational way of doing things. Millennial leaders tend to be more willing to speak out on areas of dissatisfaction and challenge old methods and processes. They and their organizations embrace new communication tools and use text messaging, social media and other new ways to market their products.

2. Millennials prefer a teamwork approach over authoritative management.

One of millennials’ most crucial values is their need to build relationships. Millennial leaders prioritize teamwork and prefer using a team approach rather than an individualistic approach to achieving the organization’s goals and mission. Millennial leaders will seek the opinions of their teams before making significant decisions.

3. Millennials as leaders seek diversity, purpose and fulfillment.

Millennials grew up in a society that is more open to and accepting of people of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions and physical abilities and are more likely to hire diverse job candidates. They also believe you need a higher purpose to be truly successful and want their employer to share their values. It is not enough for millennials to refrain from doing harm; they want to make a positive difference in the world and expect their employer to do the same.

FYIDid you know
According to the Deloitte survey mentioned earlier, in 2023, more than a quarter of millennials were very satisfied with their employers' societal impact, including taking stances on social issues ― an increase of 9 percent from 2019.

4. Millennials value flexibility.

Family values and individual goals are key aspects of millennial leadership styles. Millennial leaders think remote work is good for business, recognizing that employees can serve their families and still meet the business’s needs.

5. Millennials are good communicators. 

In the LiveCareer study mentioned above, millennials were asked to rank their personal skills and were the only generation to place communication in the top spot, followed by problem-solving. They communicate with others while also soliciting feedback from their teams. Millennial managers are more likely to have weekly individual meetings with members of their teams or create weekly reports on their teams’ projects. 

6. Millennials are work-focused. 

Contrary to the common idea that millennials don’t want to work, millennials are quite driven. The LiveCareer study found that nearly a third of millennials (32 percent) valued work more than family. The Deloitte study found that 62 percent of millennials say work is central to their identity ― compared to 49 percent of Gen Z workers. Additionally, millennial leaders are not content to stay with employers for too long if they don’t move up the corporate ladder. A LinkedIn survey found that two-thirds were considering making a career move in the upcoming year ― the highest percentage of any generation.

Jennifer Dublino contributed to this article.

author image
Written By: Jennifer PostSenior Writer & Expert on Business Strategy
Jennifer Post brings a decade of expertise to her role as a trusted advisor for small business owners. With a strong foundation in marketing, funding, human resources and more, she teaches entrepreneurs about the software and tools necessary for launching and scaling successful ventures. From email marketing platforms to CRM systems, she ensures businesses have the technological edge they need to thrive while also sharing best practices for everyday operations. Post's recent focus on risk management and insurance underscores her commitment to equipping business owners with the services needed to safeguard their businesses for long-term success. Her advice has appeared in Fundera, The Motley Fool and HowStuffWorks.
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