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A Generational Leadership Vacuum?

May 6, 2011

Recently I co-presented at an event with a Dean of a Liberal Arts program on how colleges and universities are teaching students differently today and the impact that has on companies regarding development, training and work performance.  Keep in mind, for the most part, when we discuss traditional college students we are talking about the Millennial generation (born 1980 to 2000). 

But what our presentation was about is not nearly as important as the question I was asked by another academia at the end of the program.  The question was about the leadership vacuum being created within the Millennial generation.  Specifically the attendee wanted to know my thoughts on how the Millennial generation would lead one day and if we have a generation that will not be able to lead well. 

I’m not exactly sure how I answered because to be honest I think the question may be premature.  Isn’t it natural for an older generation to wonder and question – out loud – if the generation younger than them will be able to take their place one day?  When Generation X entered the workforce didn’t the Baby Boomers and Traditionalist question if we would have the work ethic to show up on time, day in and day out (remember they did call us ‘slackers’).  Now the Xers can’t wait for the Baby Boomers to hurry up and get out of the way so it can finally be their time to be in charge. 

And when in your 20s don’t you naturally make mistakes when it comes to leading or even working with your co-workers, typically your peers, and begin to develop your leadership style in the early part of your career?  Is there an expectation being set today that the Millennials should be able to graduate one day and shortly after assume the helm of a team, project or division and be successful at it?

When we discuss a leadership vacuum, is there really one?  If you look around your company how many people do you think would like to move into a leadership role? Could you make an accurate assessment that is not solely based on your subjective opinion?  And of those ready for a leadership role which ones have been trained, coached, mentored and held accountable for developing their leadership skills?  How many have received accurate and timely feedback on their behaviors and abilities?    

How many Millennials are receiving this kind of training and development now?  If you want them to lead for some future “tomorrow” don’t you need to invest in them now?

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