Leadership Defined, The Millennial Way

Written by Amity Lim and Melanie Gunio

Are you a leader?

If this question would have been responded to quite hesitantly by older generations, majority of millennials would respond to it with a blunt, “Yes.” This was based on the 2013 Millennial Leadership Survey conducted by Hartford, wherein 78 percent of millennials consider themselves to be a leader[i]. With such a confident stance, the topic of managing millennials has been a critical topic in leadership today. But instead of being baffled by how to manage them, maybe the more apt question to begin with is, how do these millennials actually define leadership?

Who are the Millennials?

The Millennials, also called Generation Y, are quickly entering the workforce in large numbers. They are individuals born from the year 1980 to 2000. As a generation larger than the baby boomers, predicted to be 50% of the working population by 2020[ii], the millennial workforce is now defining the 21st century workplace.

In most corporations, Generation Y is described to be uncomfortable with rigid corporate structures. They view organizations less hierarchically compared to the past generations. They are usually characterized with regards to their expectations for rapid career progression as well as variations in work and constant feedback.

Millennials have a desire to keep learning. They are the first generation to grow up with technology. They are used to having instant access to information with a few taps of their fingertips. Most would perceive them to be impatient, but another perspective would be that of having a sense of immediacy.

Given these traits and expectations typical of millennials, how would that lead to their perspectives on leadership?

How Millennials Define Leadership

As a generation not easily taken with the concept of hierarchy, leadership is mainly viewed by millennials not in the context of position or titles, but rather in the act of leading itself. If leadership is about influencing and motivating others, then, in the perspective of Gen Y, leadership is not merely about those who are able to let another get the job done, but rather those who are able to give relevant direction and timely guidance towards the appreciation, valuation and fulfillment of their job. In simpler terms, leadership may be regarded as mentorship. The millennials’ desire for constant feedback may be said to necessitate this kind of relationship with those whom they consider as leaders.

Being natives to technology, millennials are largely globalized in perspective especially with their access to networks and information made possible through the Internet. This has its effects on leadership in that teamwork and collaboration are highly valued by this generation. Critical to success is information sharing, honest and open feedback, and accommodation of different views and perspectives. Leadership is not just a matter of seeing who your people are, but rather of hearing out their perspectives and their opinions and acknowledging the value that it adds to the team.

Lastly, as a generation that is characterized as largely impatient, results are very integral to millennials’ view of leadership. These results do not merely pertain to numbers or figures achieved, but rather results when it comes to impacting a wider sphere of persons or communities — that which they call creating a legacy or making a difference, which is a burning desire they want to achieve themselves.

Are millennials leaders?

This question has yet to be proven as largely true, but with the potential for greatness evident of millennials in the workforce, this is indeed a promising question being answered by this generation in different, surprising ways.


[i] Eggleston, M. (2015). How Millennials View Leadership. Training Industry. Retrieved from https://www.trainingindustry.com/blog/blog-entries/how-millennials-view-leadership.aspx

[ii] Stoian, R. (2011). Millennials at work. Reshaping the workplace. Retrieved from https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/managing-tomorrows-people/future-of-work/assets/reshaping-the-workplace.pdf