Ask the average corporate leader for names in the emerging generation of leaders, and you’ll probably hear about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, perhaps Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, the two twenty-something cofounders of Snapchat.
The Millennials represent a demographic groundswell, and their influence grows by the day. But perhaps if you want to know what your own next-gen leadership looks like, you should consider the Millennials who are part of your organization. No doubt some of them have exceptional leadership qualities, and the potential to empower your organization to do more and better.
I believe there are four essential qualities possessed by great leaders, whether they grew up centuries ago, or during the post-World War II Baby Boom or whether they’re under 30 and working in your company right now with an eye to a leadership position.
Outstanding Critical Thinking Ability
Critical thinking is the ability to drill down to details and not just take things at face value. People with excellent critical thinking ability are able to recognize logical fallacies, see assumptions behind arguments, and be able to evaluate arguments and draw logical conclusions. A leader in the making may have studied Western Literature or biomedical engineering, but the ones who fulfill potential are the ones who know how to recognize substance and focus on details.
Plain Hard Work
The concept of the work ethic almost seems quaint and old-fashioned in an age where technology can do so much for us. But when it comes to building leadership, there is simply no substitute for putting in the hard work required to develop leadership skills and stick with difficult tasks long enough to see them through. It’s not easy in a world where we have unlimited information right at our fingertips, but the people who will be leading our companies, nonprofits, and government are the ones who recognize when there are no shortcuts.
Patience Alongside Commitment
Being patient isn’t easy when you’re young. All that youthful energy wants to go somewhere, and wants to go there today. The ones who actually make it, however, are the ones who are wise enough to know that the world doesn’t conform to their schedule. There will be days and weeks when the only thing a person can do is suit up, show up, and give it their best, with no reward in sight. But just because the reward isn’t in the field of view doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Taking the long view isn’t easy, but it’s what leaders do.
Clinical psychologist Melanie Greenburg says courage is made up of six key attributes:
• Choosing to act despite fear
• Following one’s passion
• Persevering through adversity
• Standing up for what is right
• Looking beyond the comfortable and familiar
• Facing suffering with dignity
If we want the next generation of leaders to have courage, it’s important that our organizations create environments that allow them to take relevant and appropriate risks, even if those risks don’t pay off. Learning from failure is one of the most powerful ways to learn.
The Millennial generation grew up with technology and many of them don’t remember a time before the web and smartphones. But just because the technology has evolved doesn’t mean the qualities necessary for leadership have changed. Relevant types of skills may have changed, but without critical thinking ability, a strong work ethic, patience and courage, leadership can’t be effective. Leadership development isn’t a once-and-done procedure, but a lifelong process, and like a productive garden, leadership has to be cultivated and tended faithfully.