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Leadership Perspectives of C-Suite Executives Versus Millennial Leaders

January 1, 2017 • Leadership Styles, Millennial Leaders


Millennials (born 1981-1997) now make up the largest generation in the U.S. workforce according to Pew Research Center in 2015 (see graphic below) and according to PwC’s Millennials at work: Reshaping the workplace study, they are expected to make up half the global workforce by 2020. A growing number are already holding senior level roles, making a new research-based study released this month worth reviewing. The study, “Divergent Views/Common Ground – The Leadership Perspectives of C-Suite Executives and Millennial Leaders Executive Summary” was jointly led by The Conference Board (TCB), Development Dimensions International (DDI), and RW2 Enterprises (RW2E). The goal was to help current CEOs and C-Suite leaders better understand Millennial leaders, including their leadership views, values, development preferences and how they will likely lead.

Fourteen organizations participated in the study which consisted of surveys, interviews and focus groups with 5 cohorts:

  1. CEOs (n=14)
  2. Non Millennial Leaders – Higher Level (n=637 )
  3. Millennial Leaders – Higher Level (n=118 )
  4. Non Millennial leaders –  1st to Mid-Level (n=1414 )
  5. Millennial Leaders – 1st to Mid-Level (n=665 )

The researchers hypothesized that differences among generations can be attributed to life stage or leadership level rather than inherent generational differences and to test this, they grouped participants into the four paired leadership levels above, in addition to the CEO group.

U.S. Labor Force by Generation, 1995-2015


The study revealed that Millennial Leaders have much in common with other generations and CEOs, challenging the stereotypes regarding dependency, values, work ethic and ambitions. Page 7 of the complimentary Executive Summary provides an overview of the similarities and important differences found.

  • Leadership Skills: There was significant agreement among all five leader cohorts when it comes to leadership skills that matter most (as shown in the graphic above.) Engaging and Inspiring Employees was rated the most important skill by all five cohorts; while Coaching and Developing Others, Managing & Successfully Introducing Change and Knowing the Business were also common themes. When it comes to skills demanded of future senior leaders, there was less consensus. CEOs value Critical Thinking and Stakeholder Management/Business Management skills while Millennial Leaders believe that Leadership Impact and Interpersonal Skills are most important.
  • Leadership Derailers: Arrogance and Avoidance  (or passive aggressive behavior) were seen as the most common causes of leadership derailment across all five cohorts. Senior leaders and CEOs identified Risk Aversion as a more prevalent derailer than did first to mid level leaders. Millennial leaders are more risk averse, valuing certainty while CEOs consider taking career risks as beneficial to their development.
  • Leadership Development: Millennial Leaders want to advance and are committed to remaining with their organizations as long as they are growing (44% intending to stay with their current organizations for 15+ years.) In terms of development, all three leadership cohorts cited Leading through a Strategic or Cultural Transformation as the most important development experience (in a list of fourteen.) Feedback from Manager and Guidance from a Mentor ranked second and third for both Millennial and non Millennial leaders, while CEOs rated Managing Through a Crisis and Growing a Business in their top five development experiences. Developmental Assignments and Coaching were highly rated development activities, both in terms of their frequency and their effectiveness.

“Millennial leaders’ strong desire for more feedback from leadership, less formal interaction styles and higher levels of involvement in decision-making leaves CEOs and other leaders with an impression that an egalitarian style is more favorable to this generation.”

The report covers a variety of topics (not all covered here) and provides ideas for organizations/CHROs to consider as they prepare the next generation of leaders.

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