5 MAJOR Reasons Millennial Leaders Fail (and what to do about it)

Each generation brings its own perspective, set of traits, and pros and cons

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Statistics show that the leadership crisis is real—so real, in fact, that nearly 50% of recently-promoted managers fail in the first eighteen months of employment (source: Leadership IQ). Worse yet, this failure rate is expected to be higher, some say as high as 75%. According to a report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, our outplacement partners based in Chicago, there have been 1,107 CEO departures so far this year.

So, what’s wrong? Why is leadership in serious trouble? And an even bigger question, what can we do to improve our efforts for our leaders of tomorrow?

For starters, let’s go over the new generation of executives that is taking over. They are known as Generation Y. Echo Boomers. Gen Next. Peter Pan Generation. Whatever you want to call Millennials—the group of people born between about 1980 and 2000—this much is true: more than two million of them are stepping into first-time leadership roles each year in the United States alone (source: The Ken Blanchard Companies).

Each generation brings its own perspective and set of traits. According to Deloitte’s third annual Millennial Survey, the Millennial generation is the savviest, most-educated generation in history. And they are set for record-breaking success.

Exhibit A:

  • 33-year-old Mark Zuckerberg (Co-founder and CEO of Facebook)
  • 36-year-old Brian Chesky (CEO of Airbnb)
  • 26-year-old (Co-founder of CoderDogo NYC)
  • 27-year-old Evan Spiegel (Co-founder and CEO of Snapchat)
  • 31-year-old Sean Rad (Co-founder of Tinder)
  • 33-year-old Elizabeth Holmes (Founder and CEO of Theranos).

The road to success isn’t magic, though; it is notoriously challenging and paved with failure. Great leaders fail too—even the most experienced fall, and none have started out on top. Warren Buffet bagged groceries. Walt Disney was an ambulance driver. Michael Dell washed dishes. Case in point: there’s no elevator to success. And when the stairs or the ladder breaks from under you, how will you rise?

With the young and hungry Millennials stepping into executive positions, let’s look at the 5 major reasons Millennial leaders fail (and what to do about it).

1.-They haven’t been groomed for management

Great leaders don’t sprout on trees, do they? You might have a fancy C-level title, a corner office with a view, and the power to make important company decisions, but being in charge doesn’t make you a leader.

While 78% of Millennials feel like leaders now (source: The Hartford), they are aware that they need training and development to be effective leaders in the workplace.

What to do about it: Consider coming up with a leadership plan of action. If you can’t offer training, provide Millennials with ideas (and funding if possible) for training resources, such as webinars, courses, books, and blogs. Here’s another idea: what if, instead of telling them what to do, we challenge them to make differences?

2.-They speak more than they listen

Millennials are bright, well educated, and experts when it comes to many forms of technology. This can be their downfall. Wise leaders understand that they don’t have all the answers, that they can’t do it alone.

What to do about it: Millennial leaders should constantly seek out new opportunities and new relationships that will help them grow as a leader and as a person. Be open to ideas and ask more questions than you deliver answers or opinions to. Ask yourself, “How can I improve?” If you are not asking that question, you’ll never succeed. Have a slice of humble pie.

3.-They don’t have support

Leadership isn’t all rainbows and glitter; it can be an extremely lonely place. Leaders are always balancing constant demand and pressure. And there are always risks involved. That’s just the nature of the beast. But just because someone is high up in a company doesn’t mean they don’t need 1 on 1s. If Millennial leaders don’t have support, they will struggle.

What to do about it: Millennial leaders should have a coach or a mentor who will take interest in their success, someone who will guide them, support them, and give them room to explore new ideas and solutions without bossing them around. For all the talk of entitled Millennials, they actually like constructive advice. Involve them in business discussions, coach them to become better, and they will absolutely become better.

4.-They don’t stay on course

Everyone wants results, but not everyone wants to put the proper energy, effort, and planning needed to make it happen.

Newly-promoted, or hired, Millennial leaders need to deliver results yesterday—which can be a good thing, when you belong to an impatient generation, especially when it comes to your career. But when push comes to shove and goals aren’t being met, Millennial leaders can be distracted by the complexity of leadership. The body and mind will always try to pull you to revert to comfort zones. This is where discipline comes in.

What to do about it: Trust your purpose and plan. Don’t scrap it because it’s difficult. Focus. Prioritize. Keep the main thing the main thing. Get that annual budget in today. Complete risk analysis on potential investments. Review reports to come up with solutions or improvements. This is the main thing. Keep the main thing the main thing. Discipline yourself. Your future self will thank you when you are successful.

Millennials already face the stigma of their generation. As a Millennial leader, you will be confronted by scrutiny, resistance, distrust, and skepticism. It can become very easy to give up on yourself or give into the pressure. Believe in everything you do. People will doubt you. Prove them wrong.

5.-They don’t practice self-leadership

If you’ve been on an airplane before, you know that the flight attendant will always tell you to put your mask on before helping others if the cabin loses pressure.

Well, the same applies to leadership. Millennial leaders need room to practice self-leadership and make sense of their experiences. And they’re not going to be their own leaders if they’re not taking a step back to get a good, deep look at their own beliefs, assumptions, behaviors, and expectations.

What to do about it: Lead yourself first! The Millennial leader must not only know and understand their job but themselves. Simple reason: how can you “walk your talk” if you don’t know what the talk should be? How can you “lead by example” if you don’t know what example you’re trying to set? And more than that, if you’re not an example yourself, how do you expect others to follow? As the Greeks said, “know thyself.”

The point to take away is that this isn’t a time to sit back and wait for events to unfold. As Baby Boomers retire in increasing droves, we need to take steps immediately to better train our young Millennial leaders for their first roles. We can either look at the old days and the old ways, or we can support this new breed of leaders and start preparing them. Done well, they will be ready to surpass the successes of the past and lead the world to even greater heights.

By Fernando Ortiz-Barbachano

CEO & Founder of Barbachano International (BIP) the Human Capital Solutions leader in Mexico, Latin America and the USA offering high-impact executive search, executive coaching and outplacement. Directly and through our partners, we have offices in Mexico, USA, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, and Ecuador. Our corporate offices are in San Diego, California. Phone: 619-427-2310.


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