What Type of Leadership are Millennials Looking For? Here's What The Data Says
Michael DeVenney
January 3, 2022

We are facing the challenge of shifting the perceptions of Millennials to see a career future here in Nova Scotia.

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More than 50% of young graduates leave Nova Scotia with their degrees and 73% of Millennial employees are willing to move to another province for a raise of about $7,200 annually. Why? They do not feel leaders are communicating a vision of a bigger future for them. Leaders think the key to attracting and retaining young employees, rests with compensation. It is important that it be fair compensation although that is not why they are leaving.

What are young Nova Scotian employees looking for from leaders?

For me, the last three years have been Millennials and me. Everyone who works with me is a Millennial. And it has been the most rewarding time of my career. I am amazed at their growth and investment in developing skills and contribution, while I have learned more from them. We work together, that is the simplest way to describe the experience. We discuss, question, debate, and collaborate. I am most proud that whatever has been accomplished does not belong to one of us, it is something we each had a part of. We are on a mission, I am open and transparent, (there is no choice as everyone questions everything), and I look to the outcome leaving each person to decide the best route there. Everyone takes ownership and is fully committed to the business we are building.

So, I never worked this way in the past – what have I learned?

Millennials respect leadership but want a different form. There needs to be participation, they need to have input and be heard. And delegation is important, enable learning through responsibility and accountability although with clarity of the result. They also expect courage. We are experiencing social movements, economic upheavals, and change at a scale that opens so much room for innovation, there is no normal, there is taking a position and being open.

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More than anything, Millennials want a vision that includes them, involves them, and is developed with them. The authoritarian leader, the expert in all things, needs to shake it off. Telling people what to do is not a path to creativity, collaboration, or commitment. Why are so many Millennials looking to leave Nova Scotia, where they love the lifestyle and the province itself. People leave because of leaders, and a lack of leadership that resonates with them, and includes them.

In our work with clients, we found while leaders rated their proficiency at 76%, Millennials did not see it – really, they did not see the vision or the communication. They ranked leaders at around 50%.

Back to the question, what are Millennials looking for in leaders?

Leaders are responsible for the culture through the model of leadership they follow, and these are the five aspects of leadership young employees place value, in their words:

  1. We want to build inclusion - Be part of something: find ways to engage people, create a sense of belonging to their communities, create diversity, become integral to the organizations that employ them, and join boards and associations.
  2. We want to reach our potential - A job is not enough: we want to create challenge and help them find meaning in work, provide jobs that fully utilize the skills of young Nova Scotians and allow them to feel ownership and belonging to an organization
  3. We want to make things simple - Make it easier: stop complicating things and focus on simplifying access, processes, and information
  4. We want to communicate - Tell the story: we need to be transparent, communicate openly and share what is happening, good and bad
  5. We want to collaborate - Do this together: stop creating a new organization or committee for every idea, end siloes, bring people in from existing entities and make life easier, working together

These are the five bold steps Millennials want to see leaders commit to, for them to engage and bring their best contribution.

The First Step

To build the confidence of young Nova Scotians, help them see a bigger future in the province, and feel certain they can stay here and prosper, it begins with leadership.

The task is to reshape the current Nova Scotia mindset.

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We need to crush the fear of change inherent in our culture and the lack of innovation in our lives. We need to shift the mindset of older audiences and change their basic assumptions about young Nova Scotians. We need to help young Nova Scotians change their perception of the opportunity that lies ahead. We will decrease risk aversion and fear of change while increasing openness and the sense of possibility.

Leaders will need to have conversations that cross sectors and every boundary to open all our channels, so we can breathe in that vision together. Young Nova Scotians must be seen and heard in order for all of us to prosper. Leaders will work from a living strategy that evolves into the future, no matter the change or disruption.

That is a big undertaking, but every journey begins with a first step.

And to start is easy, just ask Millennials for their input, listen, and build with them.

It truly does not have to be that difficult. We just need to get out of our own way. Our reluctance to change discourages young Nova Scotians from having faith that there is a bigger future here. This is a cultural transformation that will open our minds and opportunities. It is as simple as each person changing her or his default response from ‘no’ to ‘yes’. Our minds have to be open to possibility rather than limited by problems. Yes, we have challenges. Everyone does. We simply cannot let that hold us back from seeing what is possible.

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Transforming our mindset is the way forward – and it can be done. We have to take deliberate, focused actions to shift the way we think, feel and act.

We are losing our highly skilled workers just when we need their innovation most, the cost to our future is simply too steep. So how do we support young Nova Scotians to see opportunity and a bigger future here?

In these uncertain times, we believe a simple shift can pave the way forward: focus on asking the right questions rather than having the right answers. While solutions for a moving target are continually evolving, the questions remain constant. And ask the questions of the real audience – young Nova Scotians!

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