Navigating Leadership in the Millennial and Gen Z Era

In a world increasingly shaped by rapid technological advances and global challenges, nurturing leadership skills and qualities in Millennials and Generation Z is critically important. Our conversations spanned the significance of leadership beyond traditional titles, embracing it as a role accessible to anyone, anywhere—whether in professional settings, personal circles, or community involvement.

This article explores the transformative power of engaging with these vibrant generations on leadership, highlighting how these discussions are not just about guidance but a mutual journey towards creating an innovative, empathetic, and inclusive future.

Last week, I spoke with students at the University of New Hampshire’s Sustainability in Action classes taught by Dr. Betty J. Woodman. We talked about leadership, the importance of coaching, and the transitions from dominator systems and cultures to ones of partnership.

The students were engaged and had great questions and insights. Being in the classroom as a speaker showed me the importance of connecting with the generations coming up. They are curious. They see and experience the world differently than I did at their age. As a visitor, I learned a lot from them. As a human, I want to engage in conversations and actively listen to other people of other generations experiencing life in contemporary times with its cutting-edge technologies, fast changes, and new ways of thinking, strategizing, and approaching complex ideas and processes.

I also want to know how they’re living and experiencing life, themselves, and the world, all while still figure-shifting. Figure-shifting is when you’re still trying to figure things out, including yourself, but things around you are changing so quickly that you have to shift to keep up, even though you’re still figuring things out that happened in the past and may or may not be relevant anymore.

Learning to be a great listener is the pinnacle of being a great leader. Inviting people into conversations and making room for diverse thoughts and ideas can enrich not just the goals of the discussion but the people having them.

We also talked about leadership, not as a title, but as a role anyone can step into at work, in your family or friends, or in any groups you’re affiliated with. Part of leadership is showing up, stepping up, sitting back and listening, and the invitation to be a part of co-creating. After our discussion, I know of at least one student inspired to take leadership action with her sorority.

Sometimes, it takes an outside perspective to show you what you can do to change the world, and having conversations with Millennials and Gen Z can help them maneuver through this complex world and make powerful decisions that can shape the future.

Having leadership discussions with Millennials and Generation Z can teach you many things like:

Technological Fluency: Millennials and Gen Z have grown up in a digital age. This influences their approach to problem-solving, communication, and leadership. In connecting with them, we can emphasize the value of integrating their technological fluency into leadership roles to foster innovation and adapt to the rapidly changing national and global landscape.

Desire for Purpose and Impact: Both generations are motivated by work and initiatives that have a clear impact and contribute to the greater good. When we talk with them, we can highlight how stepping into leadership can inspire them to take the initiative in areas they are passionate about, like sustainability, and make a tangible difference.

Collaborative and Inclusive Leadership Styles: Millennials and Gen Z tend to favor collaborative and inclusive approaches over traditional hierarchical structures. If you’ve had challenging moments of understanding or going through a process with them, you quickly see that your process and theirs may be drastically different. It’s not wrong or bad; it’s just different given the times and ways we were educated. We can take the time to discuss how leadership talks can encourage them to cultivate these styles, emphasizing teamwork, diversity, and shared goals, all of which are crucial for addressing complex challenges.

Shifting Career Paradigms: With the changing nature of work, including remote work, leadership is no longer confined to traditional roles or environments. By talking about leadership, we can prepare them to navigate and excel in these new models, encouraging adaptability, continuous learning, and resilience.

Empowerment to Initiate Change: When you share your experience with Millennials and Gen Z, you may inspire them to take action, become change-makers in their communities, and leverage their unique perspectives and skills for social, environmental, and economic transformation.

Mental Health and Well-being: In addressing leadership, you can discuss the importance of self-care, mental health, and well-being, which are significant concerns for younger generations. By highlighting how effective leadership includes managing one’s health and fostering a supportive, understanding environment for others.

What I found most fascinating is that we briefly talked about the effects of the pandemic on them and how they witnessed the effects and changes within their families. This gave them the idea of desiring a different way of living, which does not include working 50-80 hours a week but finding balance and enjoyment at work and home. While work and leadership are important, finding the right balance between the responsibilities at home and personal desires is equally essential to happiness and contentment.

Global and Cultural Awareness: Millennials and Gen Z are more connected to global issues and diverse cultures than previous generations. In discussion leadership, we can harness this awareness, encouraging them to lead with empathy, respect for diversity, and a global perspective.

Adaptability and Innovation: Finally, given the fast pace of change today, we can emphasize the importance of being adaptable and innovative in leadership roles. Encourage them to see challenges as opportunities for growth and innovation, understand that failure is the opportunity to grow, pivot, or re-strategize, and prepare them to lead in uncertain times with confidence and creativity.

Engaging with Millennials and Gen Z in discussions about leadership is not just an educational opportunity but a transformative experience for both the speaker and the audience. As we navigate the complexities of today’s world, we find that leadership is more than a position; it’s a collective journey toward understanding, growth, and change. By sharing insights, listening actively, and embracing diverse perspectives, we can inspire a new generation of leaders who are ready to face the challenges of tomorrow with innovation, empathy, and resilience. These conversations are not merely about transferring knowledge but about co-creating a future where leadership is accessible to all, irrespective of age or background.

As we continue to engage with these vibrant and curious generations, keep in mind that the essence of authentic leadership lies in our ability to connect, adapt, and inspire action that leads to a more equitable, sustainable, and inclusive world. When you find yourself in a mixed generational group, consider what steps you can take to actively listen and co-create with Millennials and Gen Z in your community or workplace.

DEBORAH BLAKE DEMPSEY, MS, ACC, is the CEO and Founder of Human Being Human, LLC. As a Life Strategist specializing in Personal Mastery & Leadership Coaching, Deborah offers over 28 years of rich leadership and life experience. She has held pivotal roles in strategy, finance, and operations in the healthcare sector. An accomplished writer and speaker, Deborah authored “The Hoppernots,” a poignant tale about unity, resilience, community, and finding one’s purpose within a vibrant ecosystem. Central to her ethos, she offers a fresh perspective on cultivating the empowerment of individuals to cut through the illusion of selfhood by exploring their potential, discovering their distinctive voices, stepping into leadership, and harnessing the confidence to achieve their objectives to live up to their potential.

An advocate for self-exploration, Deborah embodies self-awareness and personal mastery, understanding her role in the multifaceted world. She exhibits a keen interest in aiding those grappling with self-confidence, professional identity, burnout, or those on a journey of self-redefinition. Her dedication is mirrored in her endeavors to redefine self and professional growth. An ICF-certified integrative and holistic coach, she holds an MS in Psychology from Southern New Hampshire University.