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Tips for millennials aspiring to leadership roles


Piatkus author Dan Schawbel is a career and workplace expert who was recognized as a ‘personal branding guru’ by The New York Times. He is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm — this is his advice for ambitious millennials.

Since my book Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Building an Outstanding Career came out in 2013, I’ve met many millennials who have been promoted to management using the strategies captured in the book and others that still struggle to implement them. What I’ve noticed is that millennials are very misunderstood. They are viewed as having weak soft skills by older generations and struggle to break stereotypes that haunt them in the workplace. When speaking to executives, they all share the common concern that millennials are unprepared for leadership roles. Since 10,000 baby boomers are retiring every day, millennials are rising into management roles out of necessity, and many are struggling as a result.


Recently, I uncovered more information about how millennials view their leadership style and strengths. My company surveyed hundreds of millennials and found that 91% aspire to be leaders and 63% view themselves as transformational, which means they seek to challenge and inspire their followers with a sense of purpose and excitement.


The reason millennials are having trouble with older generations is because those older managers are autocratic leaders, dictating policies and procedures. Millennials, on the other hand, are more focused on freedom, flexibility and results over having to follow policies about how the work should be done. They want to reinvent management and collaborate with their peers with fewer levels or management.


If you’re a millennial struggling with these issues, or anyone trying to become a leader in any industry, here are some tips for you:


Develop your soft skills

We found that millennials rank their soft skills, including communication skills and the ability to build relationships, as their leadership strengths and the most important leadership skills. But if you ask older generations, they would say that millennials need to improve on their ‘real-life’ soft skills rather than spending all their time online and on their mobile phones.


Instead of relying on instant messaging, email and social networking to communicate, use those technologies to create more in-person meetings. Go to lunch with your co-workers, join special interest groups and get out there. That’s how you will learn, grow and be able to best manage and inspire others as a leader.


Work on your hard skills

Millennials tend to view their technical skills, or hard skills, as their weak point. In order to develop your hard skills, you can take free or low-cost classes at Udacity.com, Udemy.com and other education portals. Your company might offer sponsored courses that you should take advantage of. Don’t just focus on honing the hard skills you need to do your current job – research what skills you’re most likely going to need for future roles as well.


Be accountable for your career

My main message to millennials over the past eight or so years is to be accountable for your career and take charge of your life. When it comes to becoming a leader, you can’t just wait around and wait to be chosen, you have to act now. Take a leadership position on your team by acting like a leader: manage the project and support the team. Ask a manager or executive to be a mentor or for you to shadow them to see what it takes to be a leader at your company.


The worst thing you can do is to wait until you get enough promotions to have the responsibilities of a leader. If you start positioning yourself now as a future leader, when your time comes, you’ll have the opportunities you desire.


For more tips and advice, check out my book. If you are a millennial I recommend the chapter on soft skills, in order to better understand how to cross the generational divide and gain better control over your emotions and communication skills. If you’re interested in how companies can better understand how to manage and support people from different generations, turn to the chapter on developing cross-generational relationships, where I go over the values of each group and how to best connect with them.