Young Leaders Aren’t Just The Future Of Our Workforce – They Are The Present.

There is nothing more exciting to me than untapped potential. A hidden resource that is yet to be fully realised is like a present under the tree at Christmas yet to be revealed. We may have a guess at what lies underneath the wrapping due to its shape but it is only when we take the time to reveal the gift, and then understand how to receive it, that we can fully appreciate that potential.

Over the past 20 years I’ve been working with young people and that excitement is nurtured in me especially as I continue to work with young leaders. Currently I work with a group of young leaders just starting off their working lives in my local community of Stretford, Manchester. Recently we were looking at Emotional Intelligence and one of them immediately smiled knowingly and told the group about how their current line manager fails regularly in one area we explored stating how little they felt listened to and that there was a real lack of empathy and understanding compared to their previous line manager. They went on to talk about how this devalued their contribution and the consequence that had on their motivation in work.

Millennials sometimes get a bad rap in the workplace. You may have read this quote or similar sentiments about young people… “They now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise”…sounds similar to conversations I’ve had with a few line managers over the past 12 months but it is thought to have been said by Socrates (469-399 BC) over two thousand years ago.

However I would be foolish to pretend that the world is that same place today it was even 10 years ago. When working with younger leaders I always remember the statement “You were never their age”. Yes I was 20-30 in the dim and distant past but for me that was in a different century and millennium. The next generation of leaders engage and interact with each other in new and innovative ways and while that means they have need of learning some skills required in the workplace, they also have many skills that my generation are still trying to learn adequately.

The most important learning is that every person is an individual and we make generalisations and assumptions at our peril as they are no substitute for building a relationship and getting to know them genuinely. However there are some more general trends that can help inform us in our approach to leadership. Recent research and a variety of studies about the way that millennials approach work and life have distilled into five main approaches that they are seeking in the workplace.

5 Approaches to Developing Potential Leaders


Working towards a cause and having a clear purpose in mind when working is emphasised such as in the traction over past years of Simon Sinek’s,“Start with Why”. It is not unreasonable to say that millennials in general are more concerned about their significance and contribution as they work. That doesn’t mean that income isn’t a factor but there are strong indications that companies with a clear purpose are more successful than those without.

Authentic leadership

When working with young people I was found out very quickly when I was faking it or putting on a front. Putting on a façade can only be maintained for a short time and being inauthentic is very hard to recover from as a leader. However a transparent approach, being open in an appropriate way is what is expected by millennials.

Workplace experience

The environment and culture within work has never been more important. I was talking recently to a 26 year old who had just left one role in what they experienced as a negative and oppressive company and how different it felt, like having a weight off their shoulders, working at an agency that had a positive culture of celebration with humour and worthwhile incentives. Culture or “the way we do things around here” needs to be genuine and not just about gimmicks, being valued, having opportunity to have a positive work life integration and support for wellbeing in the workplace that isn’t just about a free bowl of fruit but that has significant traction and impact across the working role.

Access not ownership

I’m a dinosaur as I still have all my old vinyl in a box in the loft and a wall of CDs in the lounge. However the growing trend is for access to music, such as Spotify, or other streaming subscriptions, rather than music ownership which has been a game changer in the music industry. The same for Uber, and Netflix to mention just a couple more. The parallel for work is that employee retainment is a huge challenge for employers, and even the “portfolio of work” is still evolving since the death of the career for life. Work is engaged in flexible and dynamic ways which makes engagement of employees depend on style, fit and approach. For example when scaling from a small SME where it feels like a family of employees against the world a completely different dynamic is in play to continue engagement as companies are larger with a more diverse international footprint of customers.

Make Investment in the Development of Individuals The Norm

With a fast paced workplace, HE and FE colleges struggle to keep their curriculum’s up to date with the skills that are required in the workplace. The young generation now have grown to desire a much higher level of engagement that is around investment in their personal development such as mentoring or coaching. This is more than just an apprenticeship, although these are also very relevant, but having a coaching approach to management and/or a mentor who is able to go much deeper and help young people explore their present and their future career pathways.

Alastair Jones is the owner of Cadence Leadership that runs development programs to equip today’s leaders managing millennials and development programs for potential leaders.

Picture of Alastair Jones

Alastair Jones – Founder of Cadence Leadership