What Millennials Are Teaching Me About Leadership

Photo credit: Benji 😀 via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

“Good habits formed at youth make all the difference”.

~ Aristotle

He takes to the platform each week in skinny jeans, his shirt is untucked, and he has a shoe collection that would rival that of Imelda Marcos. But this is no ordinary person and it’s not a comedy club on a Friday night. It’s church on Sunday and he is my late 20’s something pastor. Band members are tatted up, some sporting man buns, but all with one thing in common-serving others the best they know how.

That in this stage in my life I would find myself in a church where the majority of the staff are millennials and I am old enough to be their parent, or in some cases their grandparent, is quite surprising even to me. But I am, and I am loving it.

I recently had lunch with my skinny jean-wearing pastor. We talked leadership over pizza and I must admit, I am more encouraged by what I see and hear from Millennials than I have ever been prior.

To be sure, millennials have had their fair share of criticisms leveled against them. Some of it justified, a lot of it not. But as is the case for all of us in leadership, millennials should be given a fair shake as they earn their leadership stripes.

I don’t presume to speak about all Millennials in all situations, but only to what I personally know, see, and experience on a regular basis. Here is what I am learning from those skinny jean wearing, man bun styling millennials. I think there’s something here for all of us – regardless of our age.

Millennials are teaching me about authenticity

These millennials are setting a great example about being authentic and transparent. It’s quite refreshing to be around people who understand their learning curves and talk openly about their mistakes and flaws, all while pursuing a higher level of excellence. Authentic leadership is hard to come by and way too many opt for wearing a mask. These millennials are teaching me that they care more about being real than they do about false perceptions.

Millennials are teaching me about the value of community

What I am learning from these millennials is that they are all about community and relationships. “Life wasn’t meant to be done alone” is the mantra often repeated. They have tapped into the power of community and discovering that life, just as in leadership, is better when you are part of a community of people who have each other’s backs and that through a community of strong relationships is how we grow.These millennials are teaching me that there is an up-and-coming generation that gets it and works hard to make it happen.

Millennials are teaching me about serving others

One of the bad wraps millennials get is that they are just a bunch of navel-gazing, narcissistic people who are the “entitled” generation. Look around and cherry-pick, and in some cases, you will find it. But the millennials I know take community and servant leadership to a new level.They are invested in their community and are making in-roads in the local schools. Community and civic pride is not the exception, but rather the rule. Millennials are teaching me they realize it’s not all about them, but that true leadership is about serving others.

Millennials are teaching me the importance of personal growth and development

As my skinny jean wearing pastor and I talked about leadership, we talked about personal growth and development. I was more than impressed by his vast knowledge and familiarity with leading authors, books, and podcasts. He is a student of leadership and works hard to apply it. So does his team. They are taking leadership seriously and are taking advantage of every opportunity to grow.

On the day of his Inaugural Address, a young 43-year-old President John F. Kennedy declared that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…” It was a time of great uncertainty and many questioned the ability of such a young president to lead our nation with the challenges it faced. But he did.

Millennial leaders are rising to the challenge. They are taking up the torch and mantle of leadership and from my experiences with them, we have reason to be optimistic. Their leadership will be tested. They will not always get it right, nor will we who are older. Our life in leadership is a journey- a marathon, not a dash. But it’s when we sit across from the table, eat pizza, talk, and share life experiences that we find that we really have more in common than we realized. But I draw the line at skinny jeans.


Doug Dickerson
Doug Dickerson
DOUG has been speaking to audiences in the U.S. and overseas for more than 30 years. Doug knows how to spin a story, make you laugh, and how to challenge your traditional ways of thinking about leadership. Most of all, Doug is committed to helping you grow as a leader. Doug is a graduate of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida and studied Clinical Pastoral Education at Palmetto Baptist Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina. While his leadership expertise has its roots in ministry and teaching. His background also includes public relations and business. Doug understands the necessity of leadership development and why creating a leadership culture in your organization is critical to your success. He is the author of four leadership books including: Leaders Without Borders, 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders, Great Leaders Wanted, It Only Takes a Minute: Daily Inspiration for Leaders on the Move, and Leadership by the Numbers. As a speaker, Doug delivers practical and applicable leadership insights with a dose of humor and authenticity that endears him to a wide range of audiences. Doug is a John Maxwell Team member.

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