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The notion of a “millennial manager” is likely to draw eye rolls from Gen X-ers and Boomers alike.
Are we really going to trust important business decisions and organizational growth to a 20-something who can’t eat breakfast without Snapchatting a pic?
Well, we should, new research suggests.
According to a study conducted by leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman, younger leaders are rated significantly more effective than their older counterparts.
The researchers collected 360-degree feedback (from superiors, peers, and direct reports) on 456 managers age 30 and younger and 4,344 managers age 45 and older. Results showed that the younger managers ranked more positively on every single one of 49 leadership behaviors.
Writing in The Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, CEO and president of Zenger/Folkman, identify six key areas where younger managers shine:
1. They welcome novelty. Zenger and Folkman say it’s possible that younger managers’ relative lack of experience means they’re more optimistic about the changes they propose and more willing to be the “champions of change.”
2. They’re inspiring. When it came to motivating others to do their best work, younger managers came out on top again. The authors say that older managers tend to lead by “pushing,” while younger managers often lead by “pulling.”
3. They’re receptive to feedback. Younger managers ask for feedback more often than older managers, and they try to act on it.
4. They’re always trying to improve. Younger managers are constantly looking for new ways to work smarter and produce higher-quality work. The authors say that’s possibly a result of having less attachment to the past than older managers.
5. They’re focused on results. Compared to older managers who have been with a company for a while, younger managers are less likely to accept the status quo. They’ll do whatever it takes to achieve their goals.
6. They set stretch goals. Younger leaders are less fearful than older leaders of falling short when they set the bar high. As a result, they inspire their team to accomplish challenging tasks.
Of course, these results are at least partly attributable to the fact that in order to be promoted to management at such a young age, you’ve got to demonstrate a lot of potential. The researchers write that 44% of the younger group ranked in the top quartile for overall leadership effectiveness, compared to just 20% of the older group.
Yet in spite of their relative strengths, younger managers typically encounter some negative perceptions. For example, because younger leaders are less experienced, some older employees distrust their judgment. Younger managers can also be seen as insensitive because they may be so focused on results that they can’t fathom why someone would be unhappy working 80-hour weeks.
Overall, these findings suggest that instead of fearing managers who are the same age – or even younger – than we are, we should embrace the strengths they bring.
Read the full HBR article here.