What Style of Leadership Works Best for Millennials?

This past year I have talked with a couple of hundred people from all generations. When I ask Traditionalists and Baby Boomers about servant-based leadership, most of them scoff. When I ask Gen X about it, they say they’ve heard about it, think for the most part it has good qualities, and wish that their bosses afforded them the personal appreciation that comes along with it.

When I ask Millennials and Gen Z, the first thing they do is ask what it is. I explain it this way, it’s a method of leadership, where leaders appreciate the efforts of those who work for them and see their leadership role as one that mentors and equips their followers for success. The company provides the tools, training, coaching, and creates a positive business environment resulting in employee satisfaction and gratitude. In helping their staff succeed, they ensure their success. This positive work environment enhances team cohesion and promotes genuine communication and care for one another as individuals.[1] Millennials and Gen Z’s overwhelming response was, “What other kinds of leadership are there?!”


Forsyth’s, “A Taxonomy of Ethical Ideologies[1], defines four ethical orientations:


· Situationists, which score high in relativism and idealism.

· Absolutists, which are high on idealism and low on relativism.

· Subjectivists, which score high on relativism and low on idealism.

· Exceptionists, which are low on both.[2]


What ‘rocks the Kasbah’ of today’s workplace orientation, is that no matter what category Millennials fall into, they are more likely to be forgiving and overlook ethical violations than other generations. Absolutists judge violations most severely and subjectivists are the most lenient. This propensity to forgive their peers’ ethical violations and give them additional chances to succeed deepens the Millennial generation’s embracement of transformational, servant-based, and socially conscious leadership methods.


The younger generations like to be led by supportive positive leadership styles such as servant-based leadership models. They perform better underneath them. Whether their ethical beliefs lean toward idealism or relativism, they perform better as individuals and in workgroups and have fewer ethical workplace violations.[3] They are more socially aware than their older counterparts. Some Millennials have even stated that they place their followers’ and direct reports’ wellbeing above that of the organizations for which they work.


The socially conscious, positive aspects of servant-based leadership connect with younger generations who are more socially communal and collaborative in group orientations. Research shows that the stronger the degree of servant leadership, the stronger the working relationships produced, thereby lowering the tolerance of collaborative, ethical violations.[4] The bottom line is, younger generations are more productive, happy, ethical, and work better when led by a servant-based leadership model.

[1](Forsyth, 1980) [2](Forsyth, 1980) [3](VanMeter, Grisaffe, Chonko, & Roberts, 2013) [4](VanMeter, Grisaffe, Chonko, & Roberts, 2013)


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