How to Groom Millennial Leaders to Be Your Next CEO

January 10, 2017, 10:00 AM UTC
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In the coming years, the exodus of Baby Boomers from the workforce will result in millennials filling every leadership role at every U.S business, prompting many to wonder: how will this generation lead U.S. companies?

Little research exists on millennial leaders. As such, The Conference Board and RW2 Enterprises (our firms), along with Development Dimensions International, partnered with 14 U.S. organizations to better understand what Millennial leaders believe and how we might help prepare them. From our report, Divergent Views/Common Ground: The Leadership Perspectives of C-Suite Executives and Millennial Leaders, here are just a few highlights to help you retain and groom your rising stars for the top jobs.

They value different skills

CEOs and millennial leaders have strikingly different profiles of an ideal future senior leader, with entirely distinct skills at the top of the profile. For millennial leaders, some of the most valued attributes of an effective CEO are strong interpersonal skills and having a leadership style that has impact through both communication skills and emotional intelligence. By contrast, today’s CEOs point to other attributes, including critical thinking, business know-how and managing stakeholders.

If millennial leaders’ views about the needed leadership skills remain ignored, disconnects look all but certain to arise between the two groups. Top leaders will continue to groom and promote only those who fit their profile, while millennial leaders will develop themselves according to their views.

So it’s important to start talking about these differences. You can increase transparency and awareness among leaders at all levels about the expanding set of stakeholders that will matter to a senior leader’s success. And consider aligning your promotion and development tools toward the personal attributes a leader will need as his or her role evolves.

They’re loyal — if you invest in them

Over 20% of Millennial leaders plan to stay at their current organization for 5 to 10 years. And even though some say millennials are job hoppers, more than 43% plan on staying more than 15 years. Only 28% of non-millennial leaders responded the same way.

However, their intended longevity comes with conditions. It appears their loyalty depends on compensation, promotion, development, work-life balance, and a sense of belonging to a community. As such, companies need to measure engagement of these leaders using a variety of techniques, such as retention interviews and employee surveys; moreover, offering plenty of feedback and modifying plans to develop their professional growth could go a long way in retaining them.

Millennial leaders DO want the CEO job

We found that a substantial number of millennial leaders want to advance to senior roles. At one company, a CEO asked us to incorporate a question for millennial leaders about their interest in the CEO role. Our researchers continued to pose the question at several other companies, and, often, upwards of 20% of millennial leaders reported that they see themselves in the top role, some within a 10-year timespan.

While these leaders have somewhat realistic expectations, they also express concern about their prospects.

So as a manager, it’s critical to talk about career paths and expectations of promotions. Doing so could provide alternate routes for building and sustaining leader engagement.

Rethink the open office

We’ve all read about the rise of open workplaces. Based on our interviews with millennial leaders, consider taking a cautionary pause before moving forward on this front. They place less value on excessively open workspaces than CEOs perceive they do. Although millennial leaders embrace team-oriented work environments, they think excessive openness generates distraction and makes privacy and concentration virtually impossible.

If you are just beginning to design workspace, assess your millennial leaders’ needs and preferences first. If your space is already complete, consider instilling flexibility in the way these folks get their work done. For example, open spaces can be used when team collaboration is needed for innovation. When productivity is more important, consider enclosed rooms that can be reserved to help employees concentrate as well as have some privacy. Setting clear expectations around performance can enable employees to be accountable for how their work gets done.

Ultimately, our research tells us that the U.S economy and the companies that comprise it should be in good hands. This is a steady, hard-working, ethics-based and committed group of people. They will need to be, and they will need our help. The global economy is as challenging as it has ever been.

Ron Williams is CEO of RW2 Enterprises and former chairman and CEO of Aetna. Jon Spector is president and CEO of The Conference Board.

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