Grow your Millennial Leaders today!


In a global survey conducted by Deloitte on CEOs of major corporations, only

  • 7% admitted that they had a millennial leadership programme,

  • 13% said that they developed global leaders, and only

  • 14% had a leadership succession plan.

This flies in the face of changing global trends. There is higher unemployment among the older workforce, largely due to shifting manufacturing base and technical obsolescence. The result of Brexit and the US Presidential elections are partly due to these. This problem is compounded by a higher proportion of higher educated millennials, who are adept at technology and grasp the way of the new economy. Singapore is not spared these demographic shifts.

According to SingStat, the percentage of the population who have a degree was 17.5% in 2005, and that rose to 28.2% in 2015. And of those who have a degree, the proportion of those aged 25 - 40 rose from 36.1% in 2005 to 52.3% in 2015.

But more startling is that when one includes polytechnic diploma and professional certification holders, collectively termed tertiary educated, a full 76.6% are in the 25 - 40 age group!

This means that more than three quarters of tertiary educated people in Singapore are Millennials, or near-Millennials. And with higher education comeshigher expectations. More Millennials are expecting at least a supervisory position for their first job; with many expecting to make manager in three short years. Unrealistic? Yes, if you are looking at this from the old-world paradigm. But with the shifts come a need to address the situation head-on, and keep Millennial Talent from jumping ship too soon. Millennials are not afraid to throw in the towel when the job does not meet with expectations and jump to the next available opportunity. Their risk appetite is much higher than Gen Xs, and they are not afraid to simply "bum around" doing some odd job here or there to maintain living expenses, before landing the next job, preferably one which can meet their career aspirations.

But what does this do to organisations, especially when the Millennial Talent has good leadership potential, and earmarked for higher appointments over the course of the next 5 years (a timeline which is impossible for millennials to grasp)? A scramble to hire in new talent, disrupting the course of work as the replacement is selected, hired, onboarded and settled in. By the time the new normal is established, it could well be 4-6 months later, and that might start a new cycle of hiring if this new millennial is dissatisfied with latent opportunities.

There is therefore a need to start looking for, and developing, millennials for leadership position now, rather than wait another 5 to 10 years when they are in the "right position" to receive such training. By that time, it would be too late, and to the detriment of your company.

But, I suppose this begs the question:

Why the need for a specialised Millennial Leadership Programme?

After all, a leader is a leader, right? The five leadership practices which one training organisation preaches are the same for a Baby Boomer, Gen-X or Millennial Leader, correct? Shared vision is shared vision.

Or is it?

There is a growing trend for contingent work around the world. The matured displaced workers, being unable to secure a full time job, will offer their experience and knowledge on a project basis, helping startups and businesses on a needs basis. Other millennials who prefer to hone a specialised craft will offer part of his/her time to earning an income, again on a needs basis. In Singapore, with the focus on lean workforce, and the reduction in availability and dependence on foreign labour, there is big pressure on cutting headcount to maintain competitiveness, increasing worker productivity, and keeping expenses off-budget. All these fuel the rise of the contingent workforce and create a new paradigm in organisational leadership. Then more questions arise including:

  • Should we train the contingent workers?

  • How do we integrate them with the organisational culture?

  • How do we increase collaboration with other teams?

Indeed, how does one have shared values when contingent workers are not there to share those values with you over time? To them, the work is a means to an end, and your organisation's values don't mean very much to them. How do you lead such a diverse team if you are not adequately trained?

Previous leaders did not have to deal with such complex issues and no one is really looking into these matters in the organisation at this moment. When commingled with a relatively inexperienced and inadequately trained Millennial Leader, the results will be disastrous. But that is not the Leader's fault; it is the organisation's. Hence, there is now a pressing need to create a leadership programme specially designed for Millennial Leaders that take into account the following:

(1) Customer focus

With the advent of design thinking, there has been a shift away from product and process to customers and people. But millennials can be myopic in their views not because they lack intellect, but experience and repertoire. So in an organisational setting, they will only see product and process, and if are not given a customer-focus mindset from the outset, their decisions may run counter to business needs. The Millennial Leadership programme must instil the importance of always being customer focused, and appreciate what their actions bring to the customer, even if they are hidden far inside the bowels of the organisation.

(2) Diverse team collaborations

This is a very tough ingredient because it is already challenging for an experienced leader to handle diverse teams comprising all ages and all terms of service. When you put a Millennial Leader into the fray, the issue compounds significantly. But that is the precisely why there is this need for a specialised Millennial Leadership programme that empowers them specifically to handle such diverse teams.

(3) Complex problem solving

Millennials grew up with the computer and the Internet, and they are not afraid to simply turn to Google or to their social circle to acquire an answer to a problem. This may be adaquate for simple problems, but with a complex problem, there is a need to delayer the situation, and focus on the main intent. Such problems don't have a Google answer, and there is a need to adopt a process to solve such problems since Millennial Leaders don't have the experience and repertoire to guide their "gut instinct". But they have youth and intellect which should be employed to the max by providing them with a robust framework of handling complex problems. And most real-world problems are complex.

(4) Performance management

Youth, unfortunately, is not on the side of the Millennial Leader when dealing with a diverse team. Not only is there a need to establish credibility fast, there is also a need to be able to direct the team to perform under a tight timeline. When contingent workers are on the clock, there is little time to waste in developing the "whole person". Yet, there is still a need to keep them adequately trained, and performing at peak level. The employment of spot coaching is key to managing diverse teams' performance, as is the support of smart performance handling tools. Mobile apps that aid in such performance management will be highly valued in such a leadership programme.

(5) Judgement & decision making

Here is where judgement (and the gut instinct) and cognitive skill come together. Yet the Millennial Leader only has one driver, and judgement is still under development. How the Millennial Leader leverages the judgement of members, how he/she uses them as decision inputs, and how he/she derives the system constraints and options become important in such a programme. Ultimately, it is the leader who will make the decision, but the follow-through of such a decision is very much left to the team. If he/she is unable to make a well thought-through decision, one that he/she can sell to the team members (and to the boss, one must add) the decision will come to nought. And that is not good for the Millennial Leader. He/She needs to be trained to handle all these.

(6) Negotiation

There is more contact with the "outside world" today as it was in the past. Previously, a department manager will deal with external parties, and the lower level leaders will execute the decisions through his/her team. No more. The openness of the economy, and the penetration of external workforce in the team, requires that the leader understands how to pitch and negotiate for a win-win outcome. Understanding concepts like BATNA (and these days, also the WATNA), ZOPA, the Winners' Curse, and the impact of personality and traits on the negotiation table will be key to ensure that the Millennial Leader does not inadvertently hand over the keys of the company to an outsider!

(7) Flexibility & adaptability

One thing that Millennials have is the ability to be adaptable. They understand how to navigate the meandering course of the current economy much better than their esteemed seniors. But what they fail to take into account adequately are the risks in taking one new tack versus another. Here is where speed should sometimes be traded for caution. Knowing how to do that is more an art than a science, but a good Millennial Leadership programme will provide a means to balance adaptability with risk. Understanding scenarios, identifying assumptions (which are many, but few actually articulated) and taking a measured approach are what Millennial Leaders need to learn.

So much to learn; So little time

The challenge for Millennial Leaders is that there are many demands on them today, and there is so much for them to learn. Yet time is not on their side. Leaders in the "old" paradigm (no pun intended) used to operate out of a slower pace, and development could also be done slowly. They would be eased into the leadership role over time, which affords the organisation the luxury of dripping development over a longer timeframe. And since they are less likely to jump ship, since loyalty is their hallmark, there is no real urgency to speed up development. Well, not any more. With everything accelerated, including leadership expectations, development must also be accelerated. There is no time to send leaders for two or three "development" programmes a year. In fact, the global trend is that employees expect, and demand, continuous learning opportunities. All these learning have to be bundled into a comprehensive package, allowing leaders to learn what they need, when they need it, and how often they need it. Drip feeding development will see the leader getting frustrated that no real development is coming their way, and will force them to seek new opportunities elsewhere. Is that what you want?

No, with technological penetration, training will always be available; and with workplace experience to boost application, organisations can stay on top of leadership development needs. And that is what your Millennial Leader needs.

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