Lauren Stiller Rikleen, president of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership
Photograph by David Fox — The Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership

Lauren Stiller Rikleen, President of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.

By Lauren Stiller Rikleen
December 9, 2014

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: Career-wise, is it more important to be smart or confident? is written by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, President of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.

It is difficult to imagine career success without a healthy combination of intelligence and confidence. At different times, one will emerge as more important than the other. When high-risk opportunities come along, the strength that comes from inner confidence can be the guiding force that leads to a rewarding result. And when focusing on a difficult challenge, nothing may be more important than clear-headed intelligence to reach the right solution.

For younger people today, however, this question may need to be analyzed differently. Millennials are pouring into the workplace, facing the added challenges of a still-recovering economy, massive student debt, and a reputation that is replete with unfair stereotypes. The stickiest of the preconceived notions they face is the accusation that they are entitled.

The generation that was raised to be self-confident is viewed as “entitled” once in the workplace. Yet describing an entire generation as “entitled” misses much of the underlying complexities. The fact is, millennials likely possess a higher degree of self-confidence and self-respect than did previous generations at a similar age.

This overt self-confidence may be the natural result of youthful enthusiasm mixed with a child-centered upbringing. The word “entitled,” however, becomes a euphemism for what happens when a sizable portion of a large demographic is raised to be self-confident achievers. Unfortunately, the perpetuation of this stereotype means that the manifestation of confidence may pose an actual burden for those starting their career climb.

Rather than seeing entitlement, employers should welcome the self-esteem they are seeing in their young adult employees. After all, it is the same self-esteem that many of the same employers, as parents, encouraged their millennial children to develop from the time they were infants. Millennials have been raised to believe in themselves and, in doing so, exhibit a resolute strength. This strength is not entitlement.

The elimination of the label of “entitlement” as a defining quality of millennials would have a powerful impact on how the generations relate to one another in the future. Senior generations will benefit by recognizing the millennials’ self-confidence as a positive building block of future leadership. With strong mentoring and wise guidance, millennials will be able to prove that confidence and brains are a potent combination for success.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: Career-wise, is it more important to be smart or confident?

Why it’s (often) better to be confident than smart by Sally Blount, Dean of Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Why ‘fake it till you make it’ actually works by China Gorman, CEO of Great Place to Work Institute.

Why confidence trumps smarts by Liz Wiseman, President of Wiseman Group.

Humility is the best kind of confidence by Christina Smedley, Vice President of Global Brand and Communications at PayPal.

Confidence is the “golden ticket” by Sallie Krawcheck, Chair of Ellevate Network.

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