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Top 3 biases that make business execs deaf to young leaders

The c-suite, or chief business executives, got much to learn from their companies’ millennials
By Thuy and Milo Sindell |



Millennials and other young leaders are ready to bring change to their organizations, the Leaders 2020 study from SAP SuccessFactors suggests. In the survey, millennial leaders were significantly less likely to say their organization was efficient than senior leaders.


Young leaders see what needs to be improved, but is anyone listening? Does anyone take them seriously?



Although millennials are the largest group in the workforce, and made up 17 percent of executives in the Leaders 2020 survey, senior leadership is still reluctant to listen to new ideas and hand over the reins to the next generation of leadership. But this bias is holding organizations back from innovation and improvement.


Here’s a look at the bias senior leaders tend to have against young leaders, and how to eliminate it to implement fresh ideas:



1. They lack experience.

One of the biggest biases senior managers hold over young leaders is that they lack experience. They’re new to leadership, and while they may have some leadership development under their belts, they don’t have the same level of practical experience senior leaders do.


A study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior in April found that younger managers face a heightened risk of being rejected by employees and peers because of their perceived lack of expertise and status. But just because young leaders have less experience, doesn’t mean their ideas about workplace and organizational improvement aren’t valid.




Getting over the bias

Holding young leaders back because they lack experience is a catch-22. They can’t gain experience if they’re not allowed to experiment and try new ideas and strategies.


When millennial leaders present new ideas, encourage them to pursue them. Where applicable, provide not just the words, but the support and resources to help them. Even if these strategies fail, leaders will learn from the experience and find better ways to implement change. Allow young leaders to get the practical, hands-on experience they need to grow while benefiting the organization at the same time.


2. They aren’t knowledgeable about the business.

Young leaders are seen as not only less experienced, but also having less knowledge about the business. Senior executives who have been with the organization for decades obviously know more about the inner-workings of the company, the marketplace, clients and competitors. But younger leaders may be more in touch with employees than senior executives.



In a survey of millennials around the globe conducted by Deloitte, respondents said that what leads business to long-term success is employee satisfaction, loyalty and fair treatment. While senior leaders understand the business inside and out, millennials care more about and understand employee wants and needs.


Getting over the bias

The workforce is changing, and it’s time to update work policies and processes in ways that still align with company values and goals. Listen to recommendations from young leaders concerning employee satisfaction and engagement. Then, work with these leaders to find the best way to implement these changes to fit with the business and established culture. Use both sets of expertise to find the best approach for the organization.



3. Their leadership skills are unrefined.

Not only do young leaders lack experience and knowledge of the business, they also lack overall leadership skills. But that’s exactly what they want to change.



Among those surveyed in the SuccessFactors report, just 38 percent of millennial leaders agreed that their organization devotes resources to training the next generation of leaders, compared with 48 percent of senior leaders. In addition, millennial executives are less confident in their organization’s ability to develop talent for the digital workplace and plan for succession.


Typically, leadership development and coaching is reserved for senior executives, and that means new leaders start their roles unprepared. But millennial leaders are more interested in improving leadership development on a company-wide level and providing more resources and tools to the next generation of leaders.



Getting over the bias

Make leadership development and coaching available at all levels so young leaders come to their roles prepared. Use mentoring and coaching to pass on the wisdom and knowledge of senior executives to millennials. With more knowledge and coaching, young leaders can develop new ideas and present them effectively, while senior leaders will have more confidence in their abilities.








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