Guest Editorial: What Millennials want in leaders
by Thom S. Rainer
The Millennial generation is the generation that has grabbed my heart. I know that my preference is largely related to having and loving three Millennial sons and their friends. But I know that my favoritism also stems from the attitude of hope that this generation brings.
My son, Jess, and I just wrote a book about this generation with the basic title, The Millennials. Our work was based on a massive research project led by LifeWay Research, where that team asked 1,200 older Millennials dozens of questions in multiple categories. The responses were fascinating.
As a reminder, the Millennials are America’s largest generation, more than 78 million in number. They are slightly larger in number than the well-documented Baby Boomer generation.
The Millennials were born between 1980-2000, though our research included only the older portion of this generation, those born between 1980-1991. The study included demographic sampling that represents the generation in total.
Though we asked relatively few questions about leadership in our study, the intensity of their responses provided clear indication that this subject was one of great interest to many in this generation. In our study, we found four major leadership foci among the Millennials. We dubbed them simply “What Millennials Want in Leaders.”
1. Mentoring. This generation has great respect for those older than they are. Most of them have good relationships with their parents. They have learned from older people all their lives, and they don’t want to stop now. They want to be led and taught in their places of work, in their churches and in their families. They particularly want to learn from couples who have had long and successful marriages. Many Millennials see such as heroes to emulate.
2. Gentle spirit. This category is easier to describe by what Millennials do not want in leaders. Divisive, loud and acrimonious persons turn them off. They loathe politicians and political pundits who scream at each other. They are leaving churches to some extent because they see many Christian leaders as negative and prone to divisiveness. They are repulsed by business leaders with harsh and autocratic spirits.
3. Transparency and authenticity. I wish we had counted the number of times that Millennials used the word “real” to describe leaders they want to follow. As one told us, her generation “can smell phony and pretentiousness a mile away.” They don’t want phony; they want authentic. They don’t want pretentious; they want transparent.
4. Integrity. The Millennials are weary of politicians who don’t keep promises. They are tired of Christian leaders who fail basic moral standards. They are fed up with business leaders who are more concerned about personal gain than serving others. They want leaders with integrity.
The Millennial generation has much to offer. As a whole, they desire to serve others. Most of them are very family-oriented. And they really want to listen and learn from others. Indeed they are looking for a few good leaders to follow. When they find them, they will follow with commitment and enthusiasm.
Our study of this generation was one of the most encouraging research projects in which I have been involved. I found great hope in the Millennials. I see great promise in many of them. And I found among them a hunger to learn from leaders they respect.
May we who have come before them be that type of leader. The largest generation in America is watching us closely.
Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.