ATD Blog

Get Ready: Mantle of Leadership Is Passing to Millennials

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

There are now more Millennials than Baby Boomers in the workforce. Further, 50 percent of those Millennials are already in leadership positions. Unfortunately, they’re not ready. These Millennials have not received the training and development—or the experience-based learning—they need to develop the leadership skills that are most important in the world they are helping to create. Clearly, it’s time for previous generations to stop fretting about managing Millennials and start focusing on how to develop their leadership skills.

More Millennials in the Workforce 

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Virtuali survey (see, Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) became the largest generation in the U.S. labor force in 2014. Over the next 5 years, they will grow by 30 percent to 72 million, while Baby Boomers will decline by 28 percent to 30 million. 

But that’s just the starting point. 

It’s not just about managing Millennials any more. They’re growing up fast. According to Deloitte’s Millennial Survey, 50 percent of Millennials are already in leadership positions, and 41 percent of them have four or more direct reports. But it gets worse. 

Different Perspective on Leadership 

Millennials don’t view leadership the way previous generations do. Virtuali CEO Sean Graber explains, They have a changing concept of leadership. They are much less interested in hierarchical leadership than to something that is much more collaborative and cross-functional." 


Graber suggests that might be a result of the changing economy. Maybe. But a big part of what’s different comes back to the context of their leadership, given a previously unimaginable access to data and information, connecting them with each other and the world. (See my Forbes article on leading Millennials.) Bottom line: We have not prepared Millennials. 

Poor Training and Development 

Previous generations have failed to prepare Millennials to lead. Those generations need to help Millennials develop the leadership skills they will need for the coming world, not the current one. According to Deloitte, 64 percent of current Millennial leaders surveyed felt unprepared when entering their leadership role.”

Vituali’s own research corroborates this point. More than 60 percent of respondents said they received 10 hours or less of leadership development in the past year. More importantly, a majority of those that did receive training indicated that it was not the right type. The key is experiential learning.

The Right L&D 


Graber’s analysis finds that Millennials are hungry for skills in communication, relationship building, and developing of others. As Graber puts it, it’s all about communication, collaboration, and relationship building…It boils down to coaching and experience." (Request an executive summary of First-Time Leader for more on this.)

Experiential Learning 

Graber explains that "Millennials are a tough audience. They are accustomed to curating their own content and having access to on-demand resources. Information must be relevant to them—right now." Virtuali is convinced that Millennials "see their careers as a series of experiences. Those companies that are able to provide them will recruit and retain top talent." 

One of Virtuali’s programs is a good model, combining traditional classes and experiences. Their “Go!” program is designed to function like a part-time MBA, so people don’t need to miss work. In this two-month program participants go through individual assessments and coaching, classes, virtual project collaborations and a two-week out of country live experience. 

Implications for You 

This is not an optional exercise. You can’t fight death, taxes, tides, or demographic waves. Stop treating Millennials like pups wet behind the ears. They are now the majority: It’s no longer about managing or leading them; it’s about enabling them to lead each other. 

Specifically, be sure to hire Millennials with the right talents for your organization. Then, give them appropriate classes, courses, reading, and so forth to develop the knowledge they will need about your business, customers, collaborators, capabilities, conditions, and competitors. Put Millennials into situations where they can get a set of experiences that allow them to build the skills they need to lead others in the new world. 

The way Millennials lead—and are going to lead—is different than the way previous generations lead. The point is not how this works for previous generations; it is how this works for leading Millennials, which is now the largest cohort in the workforce.

About the Author

George Bradt has a unique perspective on transformational leadership based on his experience as a business leader, consultant, and journalist. He progressed through sales, marketing, and general management roles around the world at companies including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and J.D. Power’s Power Information Network spin-off as chief executive. Now he is a principal of CEO Connection and managing director of the executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis.

George is a graduate of Harvard and Wharton (MBA), co-author of four books on onboarding, including The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan, and co-author of a weekly column on, The New Leader’s Playbook.

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