Millennial Leadership Development: Building the Business Case & Getting Started

Microphone with podium at seminar on stage, representing leadership development

Millennials now make up the largest cohort in the workplace, according to Pew Research. Many of them have ascended to leadership positions and are helping to define company direction, culture and strategic goals, but not all of them feel fully prepared. L&D professionals must build the business case for new leadership development by highlighting the needs of millennials and where their company’s current learning strategy and learning management system can be improved.

Once these baselines are established, learning professionals can enhance the company’s approach to training this generation by implementing or improving mentorship programs, focusing more on improving younger employees’ soft skills and emotional intelligence, and designing stretch assignments to challenge and push them to greater heights.

Why developing millennial leaders is important

Leadership development has to be continually assessed and refined. The lessons that helped your grandpa become a better manager will not be 100% relevant for current and future generations of leaders.

Before you begin establishing which of your younger workers need training, however, you must first express to the C-suite the value of investing in their management skillsets. It begins with the benefits of long-term succession planning and forging employee loyalty amid the gig economy. According to a Robert Half survey, 75% of employees ages 18 to 34 view job-hopping as beneficial, compared to 59% of workers ages 35 to 54 and 51% of those 55 and older. By creating a career path that will entice these workers to stay and continually learn as they grow, you’re securing the future of your company.

Also consider what millennial job hunters look for in a company’s leadership team. Companies that are forward-thinking and emphasize having a positive impact on society over profit are an attractive target. Therefore, you need innovators who will inspire their peers in leadership roles. Keep in mind, however, that while millennials taking on senior positions want to transform company policies and practices, they need education on their company’s POV, advanced industry knowledge, guidance and structure so they understand how to best effect change. Training these employees to lead with the values and interests of the whole company in mind gives you a competitive advantage. It also boosts the reputation of your company to those potential new recruits, who are increasingly searching the internet and social media to discover what your reputation is amongst their peers.

Where to invest your initial time & resources

Like any worker moving into a new role, emerging leaders need someone to show them what success means and how to achieve it. For millennials—a generation known to seek continuous feedback—a strong and open relationship with a mentor is frequently a key element of success. According to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, those intending to stay with their organization for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor than not. Mentoring for young leaders should involve hands-on training, such as shadowing or sitting in on executive meetings to get a taste of decision-making at the top of the organization.

Mentoring is also an essential tool for developing interpersonal skills in new leaders, who may be more comfortable communicating through technology than in face-to-face situations. In a recent Forbes interview, millennial management expert Aaron Levy of Raise the Bar noted three important elements of communication to focus on when training these employees: listening, asking powerful questions and having difficult conversations. These are all fundamental skills not only for managing direct reports, but also questioning the status quo and opening the door to innovation.

As they gain experience and confidence, make sure your millennials are being tested with stretch assignments, or challenging projects that stretch new and emerging leaders’ abilities; strengthen their business acumen; and nurture big-picture thinking.

While training programs are important to lay the groundwork for new skills, these should be concise and supplemented with ongoing developmental support. Organizations should guide emerging leaders through learning paths that are structured with flexibility, so that they satisfy both the desire for guidance and the need for autonomy and customization. By offering curated resources and activities, learning and development enables emerging leaders to access the resources they need when they need them. They’ll be more motivated to engage and better able to immediately apply what they’re learning.