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Leadership Q&A: Millennial Leadership is Now

Where we stand determines what we see. However, where we stand does not determine all there is.IMG_6940

I find this truth often in play when I’m working with boards or leaders. There is sort of a myopia that limits one’s vision of not just the possible, but of the place where we are standing.

Generational Social Differences

I find this particularly true in dealing with people from different generations about social media. People who are members of the Greatest Generation (born before 1946) and the Boomer Generation (born between1946 and 1964, of which I am one) will definitely tell you that the Gen Xers (born between 1964 and 1980) and the Millennials (born since 1980) use of social media is a step away from real relating between people. They tell me that all the texting by high school kids is not real relating. They say this because from where they stand, their whole life experience of relationships has been face-to-face. Except for the telephone, most of their relationships have been unmediated by technology.

However, if you listen and watch  the Millennial generation, they are intensely relational. Their relationships are heavily mediated by technology, and in particular social media. However, from where they stand, they see some thing different than what my generation sees. They don’t see the technology as foremost, but their relationships.

This perspective can be seen in a recent report on the Millennial generation and philanthropy by Achieve and Johnson Grossnickle Associates. They studied 2,200 people between the ages of 20 and 40 across the U.S. about their giving habits and engagement preferences. Their findings are quite encouraging.  Here’s one representative quote.

What many of these donors will respond to is an opportunity to connect with leadership and have a voice in an organization’s direction. The majority of respondents expressed an interest in having access to members of the board or executive leadership of the organizations they support. Three-quarters of respondents said they are at least somewhat interested in working closely with leadership on important matters, and more than two-thirds are at least somewhat interested in being involved in the development of strategy, direction or focus for the organization. Given such an opportunity, slightly more than 75% say they feel members of the board and leadership value their opinions. Unfortunately, only a little more than half (53.2%) of the survey respondents said they have access to members of the board or the executive leadership of the organizations they support.

Millennials want engagement. They are different from their parents and grandparents generation because they are less interested in the organization as an institution of the community or society, but rather as a vehicle for a cause. Their engagement is not about process but the product of action.

The assumption that many of my generational peers have is that Millennials represent the future. Translate that to mean that they are to wait their turn and when we are ready, we will turn over the reins of leadership to them. ourThis assumption is based, I suspect, upon the idea that organizations and institutions are perpetual. It is the notion embedded in the idea that a company can be “too big to fail.” For my generation and my father’s, it gives us a sense of security and posterity to believe that our organizations and businesses will continue to exist even in the midst of change.

Let pose a little thought experiment. Suppose all organizations and businesses were automatically closed, and their assets turned over the the Milliennials who are connected in one way or another to those organizations. What would we see happen?

If the Millennial Donors report is a leading indicator of change, then we will see organizations becoming more transparent, more mission driven and more like a community than an institution. This is beginning to happen. It is safe to say that Millennials are our present, not just our future.

A Community of Leadership

A dozen years ago when I incorporated my business, the title I chose was Community of Leadership. I chose it because it incorporate the two areas that were my focus, relationships and leadership. The strange looks and questions I received about that name was unexpected. I thought it would be a very evocative name that would inspire people to visions of their businesses and organizations becoming a community of leaders.

In retrospect, the name was more visionary than descriptive of what existed at the time. However, a decade later conditions have changed. Recessions have come with increasing severity, various economic bubbles have burst, two wars have been engaged, and the world has become more dynamic, less predictable.  These conditions do not make for strong institutions.  Institutions like stability and closely managed change. They are built on control and containment of variables.

However, communities are different. They function on a human scale. They are contexts of constant change. And in a time of dramatic, disruptive, unpredictable change, the quality of relationships reflected more broadly in the strengthen of community provides the stability and the capacity for adaptation that sustains organizations, businesses, and, yes, even communities and nations.

Engaging Millennials

Milliennials don’t have it all figured out. They know that, and embrace it.  What they do know is how to engage and adapt to the world as it is. It is this talent, albeit gift, that Millennials provide organizations.

How then do organizations engage Millennials?

1. Rediscover the connection between your organization’s mission, its values and the difference it can make.

2. Treat Millennials with respect by listening and learning from them.

2. Open up the organization to their leadership, participation and contribution.

The Millennial generation has much to teach us thabout community. It is not that they challenge us about our perception about what constitutes a relationship. Rather, it is that they elevate the importance of them to a level that makes older generations uncomfortable. We need to get over that, and embrace the Millennial generation as leaders for today.

The emerging future of organizations is communal. Over the next few months, I will be exploring what it means for us to transform our businesses and organizations from institutions to being Communities of Leadership.  I welcome your thoughts and questions as we journey together into the future.

About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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