At What Age Are Millennials Ready to Lead?

by Jennifer Miller on August 24, 2015

in Generational, Leadership


young business professionals

I’m a sponsored blog partner with Spherion (a staffing and recruiting organization) and am participating in the release of findings from Spherion’s Emerging Workforce® Study (EWS).  All opinions are mine.

When are employees ready to step into leadership roles? Although there is no definitive “right” answer to that question, it’s one that employers increasingly grapple with. The Baby Boomer generation is (slowly) leaving the workforce—and those in charge of filling the leadership pipeline wonder, Will there be enough skilled leaders to replace them? Opinions vary; after all, the Millennial generation (or, “Gen Y”) outnumbers the Boomer population. Organizational hierarchies are flattening so there are less leadership positions available. When you combine these factors, surely there are ample leadership talent to fill the void, right?

Not necessarily, according to the Emerging Workforce Study, sponsored by Spherion. A whopping 75% of employers surveyed in 2015 believe that younger workers lack the “business and life experience required for leadership positions.” Interestingly, this statistic is 11 percentage points above the 2014 response to the same survey question. If this trend accurately reflects the state of leadership development, it’s moving in the wrong direction.

I’m on record as being somewhat skeptical of the notion that “there aren’t enough good leaders out there.” It’s possible that what’s needed is a change in the definition of “leadership.” Still, if three-quarters of human resource executives are seeing a lack of leadership readiness in its younger workforce, clearly something is afoot.

The EWS identified another interesting element to the leadership pipeline issue: 63% of companies have increased their succession planning efforts to address the impending Boomer exodus. This is a good start, but there’s still a gap: roughly 12% of employers see the leadership development gap, but aren’t doing anything about it.

According to this Training Magazine article, the amount of time allotted to developing executives has decreased. That means the talent management group (or HR department) must act more quickly to develop its workforce. Gen Y is often stereotyped as lazy and disinterested in leadership challenges. I see it differently: the Millennial workforce is hungry to participate—they are a generation defined by seeking to make a difference. Millennials simply see “leadership” in a different light. And, news flash: they’re not that young anymore. Depending on whose numbers you use, some of them are almost 35 years old. That’s plenty of “life experience” to get started in a leadership role.

Eventually, all of the Baby Boomers will be out of the workforce. The leadership of your organization will be up to Gen X and Gen Y generation. It’s time for executives and HR leaders to quit wringing their hands about the “lack of leadership” talent and do something (anything!) about it. There are plenty of talented people out there. Let’s work together to get them ready for the task of leading.


About the Emerging Workforce Study: For more than 18 years, Spherion has examined the issues and trends impacting employment and the workforce. This year, Spherion’s “Emerging Workforce Study” was conducted between March and April of 2015 by Harris Poll, a Nielsen company. The study polled over 2,000 workers and 225 human resource managers on their opinions and attitudes regarding important workplace topics such as employee engagement, job satisfaction, generational differences and work/life balance. One of the study’s goals was to look for indicators for what the workplace will become. As the perspectives and attitudes of the workforce evolve, employers must better understand employees for greater business success.

You can also follow Spherion on Twitter (hashtag #EWS2014) or join them on Facebook.

Disclosure: Spherion partnered with bloggers (like yours truly) for their Emerging Workforce Study program. As part of this program, I received compensation for my time. I was free to form my own opinions about the data supplied by Spherion and all opinions are my own. Spherion’s policies align with WOMMA Ethics Code, FTC guidelines and social media engagement recommendations.


photo credit: istockphoto

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