Millennials – The Next Great Generation: Do Leaders Know What’s Coming?

As the Millennial Generation overtakes the Baby Boomers’ influence, a major global shift in the balance of generational dominance is occurring in organisations and in the market place. But who are the Millennials and how did they become so powerful?

What is the Millennial Generation?

A generation is a cohort born within a 20–22-year timespan who have predictable traits, values and beliefs, along with skills, interests and expectations. Generation examples include the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, and Generation X. Members of a ‘generation’ experience events, while at similar stages of life, which have a profound impact on the enduring characteristics of that ‘generation’.

The Millennial Generation (born 1982 – 2000) is the latest ‘generation’ to complete its birth cycle. The United Nations estimates there are as many as 1.8 billion Millennials worldwide – 25% of the world population. More than half of them have completed their education and are now making their way into the workforce and the market place. Is your organisation ready for this ‘generational’ change? Here’s what you need to know about them and their characteristics.

The characteristics of Millennials differ significantly from previous generations, particularly the Baby Boomers. It is critical that leaders and marketers understand the unique characteristics of Millennials so they can attract and retain top talent, and to remain competitive in the market place as this generation approaches its peak spending stage in life.

Millennials View Themselves More Positively Than Non-Millennials View Millennials.


Wisdom vs Youth: A comparison between Baby Boomers and Millennials

Baby Boomers are regarded as being a ‘driven’ generation, with clear agendas and purpose. Boomers currently dominate many of the leadership positions in organisations, and have spent their working lives developing and refining their expertise. They have a strong work ethic, they believe in authority, and typically accept authoritarian leadership and control. Boomers are analytical and work well independently. They are also prepared to wait in turn for promotion, which are often based on seniority.

Millennials are entering young adulthood and possess a firm focus on brands, friends, fun and digital culture. Millennials are characterised as conventional and committed, with respect for authority and restlessness for the status quo. Millennials are team-oriented and focus on creating shared value for themselves and the global community. They are collaborative and interactive, and believe in performance and merit, not seniority. This often conflicts with the values of their Baby Boomer leaders who assume seniority and expertise over Millennials. They have a growing influence in our culture and are increasingly portrayed as being a ‘cultural phenomenon’.

Growing up in a global neighbourhood: How did the Millennials become so powerful?

A number of elements have contributed to defining the characteristics of Millennials:

The Digital Revolution

The Millennials, the first generation born into The Information Age, are known as digital natives. Everyone alive today whose birth precedes the Millennials is known as a digital immigrant. Digital natives:

  • Operate at twitch speed (not conventional speed);
  • Employ random access (not a step-by- step procedure);
  • Use parallel processing (not linear processing);
  • Focus on graphics first (not text);
  • Work to live (not live to work); and
  • Collaborate (not stand-alone).

The simultaneous emergence of the Millennial Generation and The Information Age has created a larger than usual generation gap between Millennials and their predecessors. Millennials possess a confidence in their set of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) capabilities, with frequent change and technological progress being comforting realities. The Millennial Generation is also the first to be born into a society that actively promotes international interdependence and global engagement. Millennials’ native comfort levels with ICTs enable them to connect with the digital world through work, play, enjoyment and desire. In contrast, most digital immigrants view ICTs as merely a necessary work requirement. Digital technology has brought the world to the Millennials’ personal computers, smart phones and tablets. The new neighborhood is the global digital community and the world is the Millennials’ playground. As such, this generation regard themselves as participants of a global community.


The Millennial Generation is also the first generation to be born into the ‘age of terrorism’. As global citizens they have been shaped as a cohort unlike any previous generation. This is due to two critical factors. First, timing: the series of terrorism events have occurred when their values and belief systems are being shaped at a formative stage of their development. Second, exposure: ICTs have the capacity to expose large numbers of people to almost instant news of terrorism and other events. The most profound of these to date are the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks in the USA.

Terrorism events and their viral dissemination using digital tools have resulted in a strong safety net being thrown around the Millennials. Consequently, the management of ‘risk’ is a prevailing characteristic of this generation.

Financial Uncertainty

Financially, the Millennial Generation differs significantly from previous generations. Millennials are credit-dependent, and often financially dependent on parents and others much later in life than was typical for previous generations. Millennials are uncertain spenders, with short-term wants, who are likely to rely on credit. They also have a desire to constantly update technology tools to remain at the cutting edge. In contrast, Baby Boomers are collectively regarded as being conservative spenders with a ‘pay upfront’ attitude. The global financial crisis of 2008 impacted the Millennials at a time when they were emerging into the workforce. Predictions of job losses, business closure and credit tightening coloured the Millennials view of the world with a sense of perpetual uncertainty.

The Digital Revolution, the Age of Terrorism and Financial Uncertainty have combined to shape the Millennials worldview from a very young age. It’s not surprising that their core values reflect a need for immediacy, short-term satisfaction, risk management, safety and open communications. Millennials believe they are special and have something significant to offer the world. They transfer these expectations onto leaders and organisations, and wield their power through their resumes and wallets.

The Millennials are coming, and they promise to bring with them a wave of change across the work place and the marketplace. How well do today’s leaders understand this change and the implications for their organisation?


  1. Boston Consulting Group, “The Millennial Consumer: Debunking Stereotypes
  2. Benckendorff, P., Moscardo, G. & Pendergast, D. (2010). “Tourism and Generation Y”


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