The 3 Traits Millennials Have To Be Brave Leaders

The term “Millennial” was first coined by demographer Neil Howe in 1991. Though the term has been used to describe an “entitled’ and “lazy” generation, I am very optimistic about the sense of social duty and potential leadership that many millennials demonstrate.

My grandfather would often quote the poet Robert Browning:  "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?” This has always been a good reminder for me to question the norms in society, and challenge myself to be a better person while defining my greater purpose in life. I think this reflection is an experience that other millennials share as an approach to new forms of leadership. I have identified three main traits that I believe make certain millennials brave leaders:

  1. Personal Values

  2. Unwavering Grit

  3. Pragmatic Idealism

According to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, millennials are guided by strong values throughout all stages of their careers, whether it be the type of employers they work for or the assignments they choose. 56 percent of Millennials globally have “ruled out ever working for a particular organization because of its values or standard of conduct.”

Most of them will therefore hold their ground when they feel that their work is in conflict with their personal values. As such, millennials can empower themselves to be leaders in the role they take in shaping the workplace culture. Truly innovative practices can be developed when the culture at the office permits alignment with an open and progressive value system.

A second trait that I believe many millennials possess is grit.  Stanford University professor, Carol Dweck, used the term “growth mindset” to describe how the ability to learn is not fixed, that it can change with your effort. It is more than just talent (especially in the post-recession era of overqualified twenty-somethings) that determines your success in your endeavors. Many millennials understand the importance of a strong work ethic because they no longer count on the already oversaturated job market to satisfy their professional needs. They go above and beyond expectations to remediate the lack of employment opportunities. 

There is research studying how self-control and perseverance can influence whether you will accomplish your professional goals or not: “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint.”

The third trait that I find crucial for brave leadership in millennials is practical, “hands-on” idealism.  An even larger population than the Baby-Boomers, millennials have different priorities than their parents. As millennials are disillusioned by the failed functioning of traditional capital markets, we see that they are prioritizing responsible consumer behavior as they move into engaging more with the sharing economy.

They are more pragmatic about getting the best value for their buck and informing themselves thoroughly on charitable causes before donating time or money to make more responsible and impactful donations in the giving space.

Despite their caution, millennials are becoming the most generous generation. In 2013, 70 percent of millennials surveyed by the Millennial Impact Project said they were willing to raise money on behalf of a nonprofit they care about. Millennials want to have a positive social impact on issues with which they have a strong emotional connection to.

Adam Poswolsky is the author of The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, and other projects, which address how to have an impact and enjoy the work you do while still preserving an overall quality of life. He refused to settle for cynicism. He advises us millennials to surround ourselves with “believers” in our cause because they are the people that hold us accountable. He also recommends to never compare yourself to other people and always ask people for what you want. He finally reassures us that being a beginner at something should not prevent us from hustling.

He truly inspired me to action during his TedXYouth@MileHigh talk: “When you pursue meaningful work, you inspire others to as well (...) So you can call us idealist, but we are not the Me, Me, Me Generation, we are the Purpose Generation, and we will be engaged with our work because we have to. The challenges facing our generation are simply too serious to ignore. They are too serious to be worrying about them on the weekend or after 5 pm (...) we can’t climb the career ladder to nowhere, the stakes are too damn high.”

I strongly believe that these traits are evidence of a certain fundamental and unique bravery that will help guide millennials--my generation--in the future. Let us dare to be different and take risks to change the world regardless of any obstacles that may come our way. I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes by playwright and activist, George Bernard Shaw: “Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.”

Related to being a millennial, check out these infographics and this podcast