At the outset, a very happy new year to all my readers! Recently, I saw a six-month old entrant to the corporate sector challenging many of the traditionally held beliefs of leadership, resulting in some bruised egos on my team, and plenty of questions to ponder in my mind. My curiosity led to research & discussions on leadership in the age of millennials, and here is a compendium of my learning on this journey.

Egalitarian vs. hierarchical structures: Gone are the days of layers where you had doers at the bottom and reviewers at the top. The foot soldiers at the bottom of the pyramid have laid Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “theirs not to reason why” philosophy firmly to rest!

Millennials are creating a new style of leadership.Brutal candor vs. diplomacy: Many folks I have interviewed in recent times have come across as extremely clear and candid in terms of their thought processes. One good candidate shoved aside the traditional norm of not bringing up compensation proactively in such discussions to clearly articulating how his financial goals were falling short in the current firm, and how he could add value to our firm, and thereby help fulfil his financial goals as well as our revenue goals should he be hired!

Self vs. firm: Increasingly, a lot of millennials are turning Kennedy’s sage advice (extrapolated to the corporate sector to convert country to firm) on its head to asking what the firm does for them vs. what they could do for the firm! We were looking for a good analytics hire recently, and the candidates were steadfast in their refusal to move out of their base city (which is home to 90% of the analytics firms in the country) to the new city (which houses our corporate headquarters), citing the need to stay on to evaluate alternate career opportunities should they feel bored in 3 years’ time!

Vertical vs. peer-to-peer: Viewing the generation gaps with disdain, I noticed a tendency in our latest batch of trainees to rely more on peer feedback rather than formal feedback flowing in through the established hierarchy. On questioning a few of them, I realized that it stemmed from trust or the lack of it – people like us know what I am going through vs. people like them (older folks) cannot relate to my thought processes.

Feed forward vs. feed “back”: Given the urgency with which both millennials and firms work today, a salient trend which is emerging in recent times is the latent need for forward-looking guidance (rather than retrospective analysis) in this generation. A young, enthusiastic millennial on my team recently met me to share a proactive scorecard based on her introspection (3 things I did right, 3 things I could have done better) and sought my input on how to apply this to her upcoming project! Gone are the days of analysis and a pat on the back (or a gentle reprimand) while looking at the rear-view mirror over a cup of coffee!

Experiments vs. dyed-in-the-wool projects: Millennials keep challenging the status quo. A bunch of youngsters I hired recently completely revamped project frameworks shared with them and proactively broke up the project deliverables into a series of experiments, using the motto of “fail fast”. It was a complete revelation to their managers who were experiencing something like this for the first time!

As we enter exciting eras in the world of work wherein some of our colleagues may be robots and not human beings, it is refreshing to see these millennials testing our long-held beliefs about leadership and corporate wisdom received over the years! While the jury is still out on the final outcome, this mud-wrestling process can only serve to test the inherent strengths of these frameworks, and help modify them for the future!!


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