Joan of Arc depicted on horseback in an illustration from a 1505 manuscript
Ideas for Leaders #477

Younger Generations Determined but Concerned about Leadership

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Key Concept

The rising generation of young leaders have evolving expectations about leadership. Young leaders are ambitious and willing to work hard, but they also believe that great leadership does not necessarily require compromising work-life balance or authenticity. Organizations must adapt to these expectations if they want to attract the best and the brightest. 

Idea Summary

As the younger generation of employees move into their first leadership positions, they will naturally be anxious, as any new leader would be, about the responsibilities, pressures, and risks that come with leadership. They will wonder, as the earlier generations of leaders did before them, about whether they are up to the task. And as with earlier generations of leaders, these concerns will be addressed and resolved through leadership development programs and on-the-job experience.

Today’s potential leaders, however, also have certain expectations about leadership that reflect evolving attitudes about work, life and success.

They believe that it is possible to have a successful career as a leader without sacrificing a successful personal and family life. They feel strongly that climbing the corporate ladder should not mean abandoning a sustainable work-life balance.

The new generation of potential leaders also prefer to avoid the politics and game-playing that in the past was expected from leaders. As they step into leadership roles, they want to retain the authenticity of their personality. But many wonder whether their organizations would allow such authenticity.

Professor Katleen De Stobbeleir of Vlerick Business School, who works closely with potential leaders and is an expert on leadership transitions, believes that today’s emerging leaders have the determination and talent to mould their leadership positions to meet their expectations. While long hours or even organizational politics are not going to be completed eradicated, young leaders will put their own personal stamp on the job.

Business Application

Organizations must be aware of these new expectations of leadership. A rigorous professional development program — one that focuses on the fundamentals on leadership (e.g., how do I prepare a budget?) as well as the leadership skills that are rarely addressed in business schools (e.g., how do I deal with difficult people? How do I lead a difficult discussion?) — is an important first step.

However, organizations should also take deliberate steps to recast any increasingly obsolescent ideas about leadership that may still be lingering.

For example, in many companies, only full-timers are leaders. This is a throw-back attitude, based on the concept that leaders must be able to devote all of their time (and overtime) to the company. Yet, many part-timers have the skill-sets and confidence to contribute as leaders if given a chance.

Most important, however, is for organizations to communicate to potential leaders that they will have the opportunity to define their leadership roles in ways that meet their expectations of authenticity and work-life balance. Organizations and companies are working hard to develop a diverse pool of future leaders — and they are not only seeking diversity in terms of gender or race, but also in terms of personality. For example, while in the past, leaders were traditionally the extroverts of their generation, organizations have come to recognize the power and effectiveness of leaders who are more introverted.

In sum, today’s young generation of potential leaders have different expectations. Some organizations will have to change their own expectations about leadership to attract the best leaders of the future; other organizations will have to work harder to communicate that they are ready to meet those expectations.

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Idea conceived

  • November 2014

Idea posted

  • January 2015

DOI number



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