Millennial Managers: 7 Skills for the Next Generation of Leaders

Posted on July 20, 2017

Davis Jones

Davis Jones

Udemy for Business Instructor and Co-Founder of Eazl

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As Millennials managers move up the ranks, they are poised to change the face of the corporate world. According to a Brookings Report “How Millennials Could Upend Wall Street And Corporate America,” Millennials (born 1982-2003) will make up 1 of 3 adults in America by 2020 and 75 percent of the workforce by 2025.

Millennial leaders’ preference for teamwork, constant communication, and social responsibility will reshape how companies are run. The individualistic, bottom-line, and confrontational management style of Baby Boomers and Gen X is expected to fade as they retire, predicts the Brookings Report.

Millennials were raised by the concept of “team dynamics” and “everyone’s a winner” in the school classroom. This contrasts with the old school playground of Baby Boomer days where bullies prevailed. As a result, the more nurturing and collaborative team spirit of Millennials is already changing the workplace.

What’s more Millennials also care deeply about social and environmental causes. According to a study by Cone Communications, 9 out of 20 Millennials would switch brands to support a cause and 87% would purchase a product with social or environmental benefits. In fact, the most well-known Millennial leader Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has already dedicated much of his personal wealth to philanthropy.

But as Millennials climb the ranks, how can organizations hone the talents of this new cadre of leaders? What are some of the key skills missing in Millennial managers and how can corporate learning & development (L&D) prepare them for success?

Millennial managers are still ill-equipped

According to a Future Workplace study, 83% of surveyed respondents said they have Millennial managers in their office, but nearly half of the older generations believed Millennials were ill-equipped to manage a team. While 44% of Millennials view themselves as being the most capable generation to the lead the workplace, only 14% of all surveyed agreed.

Corporate learning & development departments will need to play a key role in transitioning their Millennials into leadership roles through a combination of formal training, online self-directed learning, mentoring, and coaching.

Here are some must-have skills for new Millennial managers which I address in my online Advanced Management Training Program on Udemy for Business. These skills are based on the strengths and weaknesses of Millennials as well as the new skills today’s managers will need to succeed in the evolving workplace.

1. Building relationships and trust face-to-face

While Millennials are good at collaboration and teamwork, they often rely heavily on digital devices for communication. Millennials are known to prefer text-like interactions instead of face-to-face meetings, but this doesn’t jive well with being an inspiring leader. A manager’s job is to create value through people. However, it’s difficult to inspire trust over email or internal social media tools because managers can’t look employees in the eye. Trust is considered the number one contributor to team effectiveness. New Millennial managers must take the time to build trusting relationships with their team in person and through face-to-face meetings. In both my Advanced Management Training Program and The Essentials of Feedback and Performance Management, I show new managers how to communicate and build trusting relationships.

2. The art of giving and using feedback

Millennials are revolutionizing how the workplace gives feedback–replacing annual performance reviews with constant feedback loops and employee pulse surveys. The ability to give, receive, and use feedback is one of the most critical skills today’s managers need to have up their sleeve. In my course The Essentials of Feedback and Performance Management, I teach new managers how to develop the right communication skills to build trust, give real-time constructive feedback and performance reviews, and build a collaborative team culture. I also train managers on best practices in People Operations and People Analytics so leaders can implement systems that lead to continuous performance improvements. Today’s successful manager must be able to sift through survey data and implement changes that enhance team effectiveness as well as their own leadership performance.

3. Data-driven decision-making

The modern manager must also rely on internal data to make key decisions. As a result, being data savvy is the new skill all managers are expected to master. They must be able to analyze data from many different sources and draw key insights from this information. In order to stay on top of this skill, Millennial managers should become well-versed in Excel and get up to speed on SQL database skills. Today’s managers are expected to implement data-driven decisions and shouldn’t operate in the dark.

4. Internal and external team-building skills

Effective leaders realize that true leadership is not about them individually, but the kind of organization they create. Based on MIT Professor Debora Ancona’s research and “X Teams theory,” leaders should not only develop internal team cohesiveness but also align their team externally as well. For example, a team leader must evangelize their new project and build external relationships across the company to succeed. Externally-aligned teams are also attune to constant changes in the market and can adapt quickly. Leaders and key team members should act as “ambassadors” to communicate externally and strengthen initiatives outside of team boundaries. For example, they can acquire “buy-in” from management, gather feedback, acquire resources or gain new insights into the product or customer—all of which contribute to the team’s overall success.

5. All leaders need to have a big vision

In more junior roles, Millennials were too busy executing to see the big picture. But new Millennial managers are expected to get out of the woods and rise up to see the forest. Managers need to constantly think strategically on how to grow the business—what are the key opportunities, how do these opportunities match with company capabilities, and how should the company grow its headcount? While it’s easy to train managers with tangible skills like giving feedback or hiring people, training leaders to possess a strategic vision is a more intangible skill. To help master this ability, I help teach leaders how to nurture a big vision in my Advanced Management Training Program.

6. Learn to hire the right person

Leaders are measured by their ability to attract, hire, and retain talent on their team. Learning to hire the right person is a key skill every new Millennial manager should master. The cost of a wrong hire is estimated as two years of the new employee’s salary. So if a person makes $60,000, a wrong hire could cost the company up to $120K. There is also the assumption that productivity is distributed normally, but actually the top 1% is significantly more productive than the bottom 1%. Consequently, the ability to hire good people is considered an important trait of effective leaders.

There are many pitfalls to avoid when interviewing and hiring talent. Managers need to become adept at discerning a candidate’s attitude, cultural fit, skill level, and whether candidates are lying or not. In addition, Millennial managers must learn how to ask references the right questions, listen to team members’ feedback on the candidate, and avoid unconscious bias. These aren’t natural talents, and all new managers must be trained on how to hire good people. For example, Interview Training: Ask Better Questions, Hire Better People can help prep newbie managers on key interviewing skills. If the wrong person is hired, managers also need to be decisive about letting the employee go, before more damage is done to the team and company.

7. Become a constant learner driven by curiosity

Technology is changing rapidly and every leader must continuously learn and adapt. The modern leader must be constantly curious. They should nurture their curiosity by carving out time to learn and consider taking online courses on Udemy. Depending on their business, leaders should dip their toes into new skills like IBM Watson, Facebook Advertising or Python Programming. Leaders should understand the capabilities of these new technologies, even if they aren’t using them directly. And it’s not enough to just read. Leaders need to actually do or touch things like get into Watson, be a Facebook ad manager for a day, or dive into the company’s back-end database. For Millennial leaders, the pace of innovation is only going to pick up speed during their lifetime. To succeed, this next generation of leaders will need to become constant learners.

Davis Jones is an Udemy for Business instructor and co-founder of Eazl, a venture-backed professional development community of 80,000+. Previously, Mr. Jones placed talent at firms as a headhunter for Robert Half, the international talent consulting firm with $5.4+ billion in annual revenues. While working in talent acquisition, his clients included Western Digital, Lending Club, Hitachi, and the Kendall-Jackson family of companies. His Udemy courses include The Advanced Management Training Program and The Essentials of Feedback and Performance Management as well as many others.
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