We are experiencing a demographic shift in the United States — Millennials now outnumber Baby Boomers. In the coming years, Millennials in the workplace will increasingly influence decision making and move into leadership roles. The news media have already begun to characterize Millennial leaders in a negative way, but what kind of organizational leaders will Millennials actually be, and what could this mean for organizations of the future?
Implicit leadership theories are beliefs people have about what leaders are like. Previous research shows that peoples’ views of leaders — what makes them good, what makes them bad — tend to remain stable over time. In our research, we asked survey respondents from all three major generations to rate 21 sets of positive and negative traits to determine what they feel are characteristic of a business leader. The premise was that if Millenials hold beliefs of leadership that are different from other generations, then when they achieve a leadership role their own traits will be different.
However, what we found was that, despite media expectations, most traits of a business leader are rated very similarly across generations, especially the positive traits. You can see on the chart how aligned the bars are across generational perspectives. In other words, Millennials’ views of what defines a business leader are remarkably similar to what Gen Xers and Baby Boomers think.
In short, these findings suggest that the leaders of tomorrow will be very much like the leaders of today. And once again, generational differences at work are found to be much less important than the headlines would have us believe. To find out more, check out our new IBM Smarter Workforce Institute white paper Generational Differences at Work Are Much Ado about Very Little.
The IBM WorkTrends™ survey was administered by the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute in 2015 to workers in 23 countries, in a cross-section of industries, thousands of different organizations and all major job families. This chart is based on the survey results for the U.S. sample.
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