Millennials, those born from the early 80’s to mid-90’s, are one of the largest demographics alive today. Their impact on business, culture, and economy will be profound, as shown by a few statistics provided by Brookings:
- Millennials will comprise more than one in three of adult Americans by 2020.
- Millennials will make up as much as 75% of the U.S. workforce by 2025.
With such a large generation taking center stage in America’s history, it begs the question of what character traits will be essential in Millennial leaders.
Every generation has had their leaders.
Our nation’s founding was birthed through the leadership of a relatively small group of extraordinary leaders. Men and women of gifted minds and deep resolve.
Our nation’s growth was piloted by another group of visionary leaders that harnessed the power of our rich heritage and resources to create a powerhouse of influence. Men and women of boundless optimism and relentless energy.
Our nation’s survival was protected by leaders who refused to let fascist and communist ideals subvert what those before them had created. Men and women of fierce determination and selfless sacrifice.
The generation that led us through the first half of the 20th century is all but gone. The second half of the century already showed the weakening of their influence, as leadership was replaced with conformity and chaos. We entered the age of the Millennial with more questions than answers and gave birth to a generation not only responsible for their own leadership, but having little inheritance in that respect.
Despite these easily spotted trends, little focus seems to be given to Millennials’ leadership development. According to a 2016 Forbes article by Karen Higginbottom:
“The study found that just 20% of organizations identified the Millennial leader segment as critical for development over the next 24 months. Neither are organizations invested in coaching and mentoring of Millennial leaders. Millennial leaders crave advice particularly from senior leadership yet on average, just 7% of organizations invested in offering Millennial coaching, mentoring and dedicated time with their chief executive and other senior leaders.”
The discrepancy between the need and the action is glaring and alarming. We must learn how to develop young people in to leaders if our economy and culture are to survive.
My intent in writing this article is to not leave the earlier question of what traits are essential to Millennial leaders, but rather to help shape the answer with Godly Wisdom. My hope and prayer is that aspiring leaders in my generation will read this, adopt these principles, and rise above the weakness surrounding them to develop in to leaders the generations to come will be proud and thankful to have had before them.
So, without further prelude, let’s discuss 5 leadership traits that any Millennial aspiring to leadership must learn, embrace, and practice.
By definition, a millennial is someone in their 20’s or early-30’s (as of the time of this writing in 2017). This means that they are early in life and have many years ahead in order to achieve the level of success they envision. This is something common to all young people throughout the ages and can be frustrating to those with big dreams and boundless ambition.While we’ll discuss the importance of Patience as our 5th attribute, I now want to emphasize the importance of Perseverance in a young leader’s life. None of the rest of this article will be of any good if one does not apply each trait with consistent perseverance.Hebrews 11 is known as the “Hall of Faith” chapter in the Bible and talks about the legacy of generations past created by their strong faith and hope. In Hebrews 12, the author continues with:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, (2) fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (3) Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” – Hebrews 12:1-3
This is a powerful image of the motivating impact of a “great cloud of witnesses”, the leaders of past generations, watching and cheering as we run the race. Even more importantly, we have the picture of Jesus before us, encouraging us to run the race that He charted for us and giving us the power to do so through His own journey and resulting Grace.
A race by definition will be hard. It is important that in all we endeavor, we do “not grow weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9) but persevere in the calling we have before us.
As we run this race, we are expected to grow in maturity and wisdom. This is not a factor of age, but a result of deliberate discipleship under Godly authority. In Ephesians 4, beginning in v. 9, Paul speaks about the “fivefold ministry” and its place in growing the church. He wraps up with a vision of the end result:
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” – Ephesians 4:14
This result of mature confidence, rooted in strong doctrine and sound in faith, is not the byproduct of age but of discipleship. Millennials, being young, should not wait for age to bring wisdom. They must place themselves under Godly authority in order to grow in wisdom. This concept may seem too “Christian-eze” for my secular readers, but it is not unlike good mentorship or simply honoring and respecting the authority (bosses, parents, etc.) that are currently in your life.
The road to leadership is long. Leadership is not something given, but earned. Anything of value that is earned takes time to cultivate. Walking with perseverance is critical to achieving greatness.
As Millennials are young, they are beset by a plague common to many youth; Pride. Granted, this does not magically disappear with age, but life has a way of humbling most. Rather than waiting for life to knock down one’s pride, the wise pursue Wisdom and learn humbleness before their fall. George Washington, perhaps the most impactful and remembered of the Founding Fathers, was a young man during his first opportunities for greatness.In Ron Chernow’s biography, Washington: A Life, we find a story of a young man riddled with insecurity and anxious about his future. During his time as an American officer in the French and Indian war, Washington was constant in his griping of not getting the recognition he deserved. He constantly angled for honor and sought a commission he felt worthy of at every opportunity.This picture is surely not one we have come to know of the composed Washington in later life. His pursuit of recognition is likely attributed to the deep insecurities and unbounded ambition often found in those of their early-20’s. Thankfully, in time he shed much of this and became servant to greater causes than his own, allowing him to walk fully in his calling.
The best leaders are those who are not pursuing leadership itself, but service. I wrote about this last year and still feel strongly that it is one of the defining characteristics of great leaders and those who only see leadership as a path to more.
Leadership is rare and, therefore, valuable. It is easy to conflate the results of strong leadership (position, authority, money, power, etc.) with leadership itself. Many young people find themselves in the position of thinking they are noble in pursuing leadership, when they are really only pursuing its benefits.
Being CEO of your own tech startup is not leadership in and of itself. Having 100k Twitter followers isn’t leadership either. Those that pursue these are the definition of irony as they are often doing so in pride or misplaced ambition, thinking they are leaders when they lack true leadership’s most important attribute; humble service.
Romans 12:3 says “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”.
Each of us is simply a member of the body, called to run the particular race that God has set before us. Internalizing this truth will breed great humbleness, which allows God to exalt a leader and use them in ways we could never imagine or achieve on our own.
Humbleness is a critical characteristic of a leader, but it must not be confused with frailty. A leader must be just as confident in what they know as they are aware of what they don’t. Asking questions is good, but it isn’t an end to itself.Rob Bell, in his book “Velvet Elvis”, opened himself up to asking many questions. It could even be said that his doctrine became founded on not having a doctrine, for who are we to ever stop questioning?When I first read Bell in college, I detected the danger of his questioning. There was no leadership here. He stopped short of throwing away fundamental doctrines, but opened himself up to asking if they were important. Years later, in his book “Love Wins”, Bell showed the dangerous progression of this lack of resolution through his rejection of the fundamental nature of God’s justice. He essentially became a heretic because he refused to have resolve of belief.A leader must ask questions with the intent to obtain answers. Once those answers are achieved, they must be held to confidently. This resolution is like a lighthouse light cutting through the dark confusion and chaos of a questioning generation and giving clear guidance and protection. Those who are able to stand confident in their belief will be elevated in leadership, regardless of whether that belief is right or wrong.
Unfortunately, the Millennial generation is often told not to have strongly held beliefs because of their youth. Perhaps it is intimidating to see people walk in confidence. Perhaps conviction is automatically equated with pride. Perhaps it is a byproduct of the death of truth and reason. Regardless, resolution is punished in the younger generations.
Thankfully this is not a new phenomenon and we see it addressed in two places within Scripture. In Paul’s letters to both Timothy (1 Timothy 4:11-12) and Titus (Titus 2:15), we see him instruct them to let no one “despise their youth” but to be examples and walk in authority. Teaching, exhorting, rebuking. Steadfast in deep resolution of what they know and the gifts that had been given them, by God and through His appointed authority. This function was even extended to those that were older than them in years, but younger in the faith. As each member of the body is there to serve one another, God is no respecter of age.
This true resolution is also accompanied by quiet confidence. In Matthew 5:33, Jesus teaches on oaths, or vows, and reminds us to avoid them but answer with simple confidence of a “Yes” or “No” (v. 37). This carries with it an air of perseverance, in that we do not walk in questions and doubt, but with a quiet confidence that is spoken for with a simple Yes or No, and no more. This should be the habit of a confident and resolved leader.
Let no one despise your youth. Be humble, but also be confident. Speak clearly and succinctly. Walk in authority, study well, live a Godly life, and don’t waver from the truth you know.
In a recent sermon by Bill Johnson of Bethel church, he expounded upon a particular verse in the Parable of the Sower, found in Luke 8. The focus was on the impact that “cares” can have on allowing the Word of God (the seeds) to grow in a Christian’s life. These cares are not sin, but other voices than God’s that drown out His voice. Cares literally means a “divided mind”.Johnson encourages us to have our eyes be “single”, as spoken of in Matthew 6:22. This idea of “single” conveys being of undivided mind. Complete focus on Christ and His Kingdom.The millennial generation is one of the most distracted to ever walk the face of the earth. The barrage of messages created by the explosion of internet and social media has made for tattered minds, hopelessly divided in their attention and pursuits. How many of this generation have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD? One has to ask if this is merely the symptom of a divided mind.In order to achieve anything of significance, focus on that thing must be complete. In the case of the Christian, we are told to be 100% focused on Christ and His Kingdom. We are to seek it first, trusting that everything else will be provided as we have need (Matthew 6:33).
The difficulty most of us have is knowing what His Kingdom looks like for us. If it were a standard path, even a difficult one, at least we could make a clear decision on whether or not we’d take the journey. Unfortunately, as we are members of the body each designed to fulfill a particular function, our pursuit of His Kingdom will be different for each. Some it may be teaching and others doing. Some may be full-time ministry while others full-time business.
The key is hearing His voice. Our single-minded pursuit should be simply hearing His voice, believing what He says, and acting in obedience.
Once we listen for His voice, our focus must be undivided to believe and obey it. We must not allow the cares of the world to overwhelm the power of His voice, but run with perseverance the race ahead of us. We must “write the vision and make it plain” (Habakkuk 2:2) and remind ourselves daily of what our purpose is.
We must also hearken back to our Resolution and be immune to meaningless things that carry a resemblance of importance. Again, Paul warned both Timothy and Titus of this (1 Timothy 6:20 and Titus 3:9-11) in encouraging them not to be distracted by “chatter” and “foolish controversies”.
As a younger man, I often feel prey to this and would gladly argue with anyone on fine points of doctrine. Through my 20’s I matured, but this is still something I must constantly remind myself not to fall into. I encourage you to do the same.
Be focused and do not get distracted by idle people and their many words. Do not let the cares of life divide your mind. Cut out the clutter and focus 100% on His voice.
As we discussed earlier on our section regarding Perseverance, young people usually have the challenge of being far away from their fulfilled destiny. Due to the length of this journey, they must walk out all of the above with Patience.While delayed gratification is something that every generation has had to deal with, few have become so accustomed to instant gratification. Millennials have grown up in an on-demand economy, with everything from information to credit readily available. They expect to have success not just later, but now. This trend is likely to blame for everything from the explosion of consumer debt to the lack of company loyalty among our generation.If you’ve made it this far in this article, you are someone who aspires to leadership and has great ambition. I speak from personal experience that balancing strong ambition with patience is not an easy thing. It is easy to become anxious as we wait for God to lead us in to our destiny. It was out of this angst that I wrote on “Finding Your Donkeys” a short while ago. If you’d like further encouragement and direction on this topic, I encourage you to check it out.
Paul again addresses this as he encourages Timothy in his final words of his first letter to not be drawn away by a pursuit of financial gain. Rather, in Chapter 6, verse 6, he says “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”
Being patient requires contentment in our present state, whatever it may be. We must not pursue the benefits of leadership (in this case, money) if we are to become good leaders. Rather, we must be 100% content with God’s provision. This alone will allow Him to work with us, as a potter molds the clay, to create a perfect vessel for whatever use He sees fit (Jeremiah 18). This may not be “leadership” as you imagine, but it will be exactly where you are supposed to be and position you as the greatest of leaders in His Kingdom.
While I have concern about the broader trends among the Millennial demographic, I am encouraged in knowing that leadership has always been rare. While the culture of the masses has a strong force in determining the direction of a Nation, this culture is not the limiting factor in producing leaders. Leaders by definition are counter-cultural. They must stand above and out front. It does not take a great many leaders to influence change, but a few great leaders to cause great change.
Will you rise up to become a leader within your generation? If this is your aspiration, I encourage you to prayerfully evaluate where you are with each of these 5 character traits and seek to grow in each as you walk out your destiny. The stakes are too high not to.