Today's workforce is a mix of four generations—Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y—sometimes collaborating, other times colliding. Stereotypes for how these different age groups act, interact, and conduct themselves in the workplace are plentiful, but most would agree that Gen Y—the millennials—are currently, for better or worse, the center of attention. Why all the commotion?
For starters, millennials have officially surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, according to population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Millennials, typically defined as those ages 19-35 in 2016 (born 1981-1997), are now 75 million strong.
But most importantly, Millennials will soon lead the world of business, and after them their successors, Gen Z. They will be leading in a world that has grown increasingly global, complex, and even tumultuous. Today’s business world requires more of leaders than ever before. MIT Sloan Professor John Van Maanen, an organizational theorist, uses an acronym to describe this world of which millennials will be at the helm: VUCCA. It stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, chaotic and ambiguous (with one more C than the more common VUCA), and it's a big part of why today's leaders need to teach tomorrow's.
"We don't know where big data is taking us. We don't know what's happening with climate change, political instability. It is an unknown world," Van Maanen said during a panel discussion on leadership at the MIT Sloan CFO Summit last fall. It’s evident that teaching leadership skills is critical in a changing world, but coaching Millennials comes with a set of unique challenges.
- Millennials are moving targets for training. “Millennials expect to work for 12 to 15 organizations over their careers, versus three or four 20 years ago,” Van Maanen said (see Gallup for more).
- Leadership is becoming more and more distributed. Many organizations’ hierarchical structures are flattening. Companies are becoming more flexible and diverse, with employees working from around the world. When there are technically no titles and no bosses, everyone needs to step up and be the leader. Also, leadership lessons that work in the U.S. or Europe might not apply as easily in countries that have been through political or cultural upheaval, have different cultural norms, or use technology to a different or lesser extent.