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Lead Your Team Leadership

How Millennials Really Feel About Leadership

How Millennials Really Feel About Leadership
Credit: baranq/Shutterstock

Forget the stereotype of the "lazy millennial." Generation Y workers want you to see them the way they see themselves: as leaders.

Forthcoming research from leadership development company Virtuali, which surveyed 550 millennials about their attitudes on leadership, found that, while just 48 percent hold official "leadership" titles, 72 percent consider themselves a leader in the workplace.

Kyle Borchardt, co-founder and chief operating officer of Virtuali, noted that millennials' desire for leadership roles, especially as entry-level employees, has contributed to their reputation as "entitled" in the eyes of older generations. But as the survey shows, Gen Y professionals aren't necessarily seeking a senior title out of the gate; they just want to feel empowered to lead. [10 Leadership Tips for Young Entrepreneurs]

"[Millennials] don't really view titles as a determination of leadership," Borchardt told Business News Daily. "They can be leaders whether or not they have a vice president or director title. The traditional hierarchy of leadership is dated — organizations with a flatter structure have better [career] development, higher engagement and better leadership."

The reason this generation is so eager to take on leadership roles so early in their careers is because they truly want to make a difference in all aspects of their lives, said PJ Neal, senior product manager at Harvard Business Publishing (HBP) and lead developer of HBP's New Leader Program.

"Any way you look at it, millennials want to have an impact," Neal said. "In the workplace, this manifests itself as an employee who wants to understand the big picture — your strategy, roadmap, market, client needs, etc. — and to link his or her individual performance to those broader goals. Organizations need to harness the enthusiasm of this generation of leaders, rather than being put off by it."

While millennials' drive and enthusiasm is definitely a bonus for employers, their lack of work experience can hinder their ability to lead successfully. Companies aren't always helpful in solving this problem: According to the Virtuali survey, 24 percent of millennials received no leadership development training in the last year, and of those who did receive training, only about half were satisfied with the quality.

To help young leaders succeed in the workplace, Borchardt, Neal and experts from Emerge Broward, a Florida-based leadership program for young professionals, shared their best advice for millennial leaders and their bosses.

For millennials:

"Look for ways to practice any leadership skill, no matter where they are, or how big the opportunity. Volunteer leadership opportunities, professional associations or small teams in the workplace all provide great development opportunities. Reaching out this way also puts young leaders on the radar of senior leaders, potential mentors and recruiters." – PJ Neal

"Assuming a leadership role can be intimidating for some young professionals, it is important to realize that discomfort makes you stronger, and going after something new will make you accomplish goals you may have never thought possible. Be a risk taker, and if you want something, go get it. Be confident in your own skill set and ability to do what you know. Most importantly, be prepared to work hard to get it done." – Lais Pontes, Emerge Broward marketing co-chair and founder of The Pontes Group

"A great way to demonstrate leadership experience [is] serving in volunteer leadership roles for nonprofit and community organizations. Taking an active role in a young professional organization [also] shows that you can lead a group of people toward accomplishing a common goal, and companies take notice." – Maggie Gunther, Emerge Broward program co-chairand manager of communications and programs at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance

"Be on time, and on time means before everyone else. This shows that you care. Think before you speak; people will remember what you say. Be knowledgeable — you can't lead if you're blind." – Michael Kuang, Emerge Broward program co-chair and founder of Syphon Fitness

"Leadership involves being able to make a big and bold decision even when you are comfortably situated professionally. You should always strive to reach the next level rather than becoming complacent and settling." – David Norsoph, Emerge Broward develop co-chair and founder of NAO Law

"Smart leaders are aware of their shortfalls, yet continue learning what they don't know. Learning is a constant process throughout our professional life. Make sure to never stop seeking opportunities for professional development." – Carolyn Bosworth, Emerge Broward connect co-chair and Broward County public school teacher

For their employers:

"Employers should work to develop leadership capabilities and a leadership mindset in millennials early in their careers, so they are ready to step up sooner into more senior roles. [First,] deliver small learning experiences at regular intervals, stretching the learning out over weeks and months. This will increase impact and behavior change best and ensure the learning sticks with employees well after the program is completed. Second, have employees practice new skills on an actual job they need to do and then bring that experience back into the development program. Third, make sure to build in reflection. Taking time to reflect on what you just did, or what you just learned, has been shown to increase knowledge retention and improve behavior change." – PJ Neal

"Millennials are more engaged and productive if you let them own their role, drive results and feel like a leader. Clearly communicate their career paths [to them]. Identify employees who are willing to take on extra assignments and provide them with career coaching and mentorship, customized to the individual." – Kyle Borchardt

Originally published on Business News Daily.

Nicole Fallon

Nicole Fallon received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.