I am a young professional from Nairobi. Since 2015 I have been part of a mentorship programme involving young people in Kenya. I started off as a lead junior professional, coordinating and managing a group of peers. Fast forward six months into the project, I was appointed project administrator, charged with managing and running the group’s secretariat.
One day I was following up on some information for the group via phone, the person speaking to me was very receptive and agreed that the information I needed would be available for me once I was in his office. When I arrived at the reception the man came to pick me up, and it occurred to me that he already had assumptions about how a leader of a group of people should look like, he did not expect me to be so young, and his tone and behaviour towards me was different to what it had been over the phone. This got me thinking: how many young professionals are discriminated upon based on age and appearance?
If you associate with or have been referred to as a youth then you are a millennial. It is not precisely defined yet, but largely it refers to the generation of people born between 1986 and 2000. So a millennial is anyone who is between 17 and 31 years old. Millennials are often potrayed as lazy, entitled, tech-savvy and extremely narcissistic. The Times magazine, for example, has described millennials as a “ME ME ME generation”.
This stereotyping has now been somehow integrated into workplaces: young people often get work tasks based on what they are perceived to be with assumptions about what they can achieve. That’s how millennials end up working as tech support.
Presently, more and more organizations are trying to be as efficient as possible whilst adapting to a constantly changing globalized environment in order to maintain their organizational culture. Organizations continue to strive for financial health and growth with integrity while keeping all the stakeholders happy. Doing this successfully requires learning and innovation; integrating millennials into the organization’s canvas could be the key. Why? Because by 2020, millennials will form 50% of the global workforce. Just like every generation, millennials have a unique world view, unique tools and it is they who will redefine work and life in general.
These new ways of thinking will surely clash with traditional organizational cultures, and leadership structures, but the world is changing and so should the approach to leadership. According to David Ulrich, professor of Business Administration at the University of Michigan, “When someone is asked to draw an ‘organization,’ many immediately think of a pyramid which pushes authority and power to the top, but most of today’s employees would envision their organization more as a circle where information, authority, decision making and rewards are shared”.
With the exodus of the earlier generation, organizations will be facing leadership gaps. And, the millennials are able to fill in these gaps. That’s why there is a need to develop leadership pipelines across all levels, not just to make better trained leaders in an old system and ensure succession of leadership, but to rethink the whole concept of leadership, combining the wisdom of the experienced and the innovation, ambition and courage of the young. I don’t suggest ‘boss-less’ organizations, but I do suggest to get rid of horizontal hierarchy, and swap it for a structure that everyone understands and appreciates.