Creating Tomorrow’s Leaders: My Talk at NACE 2015

Last week I had the amazing experience of serving as a keynote speaker at the annual National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) conference in Anaheim, Calif. The enthusiasm of the crowd was infectious, and I had the opportunity to connect with so many career services professionals and campus recruiters who are on the front lines of creating tomorrow’s leaders. (NACE, for those who are unfamiliar, is the go-to association for thought leadership and best practices in recruiting and career services.)

As I noted at the opening of my talk, Millennials are now officially the biggest generation working today, and will be for the next three or four decades. Millennial dominance is leading to three key leadership changes that are affecting all generations in the workplace. Keep reading for a summary of the leadership changes I outlined in my keynote and a toolkit of actions we can take to prepare young people – and ourselves – for the new style of leadership that millennials will usher in.

Leadership Change 1: From Command and Control to Coaching

It used to be that parents told kids what to do, and they did it. The parents were the bosses, so to speak, and the kids were the employees. But in many families, the dynamic switched as Baby Boomers became parents: a trend called “peerenting,” in which parents want to be friends with their millennial kids.

That “peerenting” trend spread to schools, where teachers used to give the instructions, and students obeyed them. And to the workplace, where bosses used to give directions, and employees followed them. As a result, we now have a generation of young people who tend to expect authority figures to support them, coach them and celebrate them.

Some leaders complain about this – that we are becoming soft and “coddling” young people. But the question is: “Do you want to do what is effective as a manager or get revenge on what was done to you when you started your career?” What works for millennial management is coaching: support, training and development. You can yell at millennials, but they’ll walk right out the door.

Your Coaching Toolkit

  1. Give feedback. If you’ve personally maxed out on giving feedback, check out new apps like BetterUp that promise individual coaching on demand.
  1. Provide common sense training. As Voltaire once said, “Common sense is not so common.” You’d be surprised the types of training that resonate with millennial employees, like how to shake hands, how to answer the phone professionally or how to deliver a live presentation.
  2. Millennials: Train yourself, too. Do your homework so career counselors, recruiters and bosses don’t need to teach you the basics, but can focus their coaching on the intangibles.

Leadership Change 2: From Uniformity to Customization

Millennials don’t just crave customization in their coffee drinks and sneakers. They have never known the world without complete customization. In fact, many liberal arts colleges now offer “design your own major” programs. It’s not surprising that millennials want and expect customization and choice in their career paths, too. They are not interested in climbing the career “ladder,” but rather the “corporate lattice,” as Deloitte calls it, or the “career jungle gym,” a phrase coined by Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In.

Your Customization Toolkit

  1. Offer options. Are you holding a workshop or training session? Consider offering it as a live event, Twitter chat and/or Periscope feed, and offer audio, video and a transcript after the event as well. Whenever you are producing content, think COPE: Create once, publish everywhere.
  1. Communicate how they want. Always ask people, “What is the best way to communicate with you?” This is crucial for communicating with millennials and other generations alike.
  1. Co-create with millennials. When one of my client meetings entails talking about millennials and their preferences, I make sure there are millennials in the room. Include millennial employees in your planning to keep your recruiting, training and engagement strategies relevant.

Leadership Change 3: From Need-to-Know Basis to Access and Transparency

This change goes hand in hand with the concept of “peerenting.” Kids today are in their parents’ inner circle and with the internet at their fingertips, they’re used to having access to unlimited information. Leaders need to learn to be comfortable sharing the bigger picture and inside information about their organizations — and, increasingly, themselves.

Your Transparency Toolkit

  1. Experience is the new swag. Next Jump, an internet-based provider of rewards and loyalty programs, likes to say it “provides perks people care about.” And they do that for their prospective employees, too: Twice a year they hold a Super Saturday event where prospective employees get to experience the company and culture, and hiring managers and employees get to experience the candidates.
  1. Make the invisible visible. What if you’re losing people because they don’t know how to transfer divisions? Don’t let little misunderstandings or unpromoted mobility programs build a barrier with millennials. Measure everything and share your data: millennials trust data and expect it.
  1. And for all generations: Engage a reverse mentor. I worked once with a CEO who was pretty anti-millennial. He wouldn’t take on a reverse mentor, but he hosted a breakfast Q&A session for millennials. And, he told me, he hated it.

Why, I asked? “They told me their thoughts, and the worst part was, their ideas were really good!”

I loved it.

These good ideas are going to propel our next generation of leaders, and it’s up to us to help them get there. We, as members of older generations, need to listen to tomorrow’s leaders now.

Want to know more? Visit to get the recommended reading list from my NACE keynote to help you develop your next generation of leaders.

Which leadership change has been the most challenging – or rewarding – for you? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.

Lindsey Pollak is a New York Times best-selling author and a nationally recognized millennial expert who helps employers recruit, train, manage and market to the millennial generation. Her speeches and training sessions inspire multigenerational collaboration and foster lasting organizational success. Contact Lindsey to learn how she can help your organization understand and connect with millennials.

Share this post

hi, i'm lindsey!

Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


Learn 25 Practical Ways to Manage Across Generations