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Center for Creative Leadership Uncovers What Each Generation Looks for in a Leader

GREENSBORO, NC – What are employees looking for in leaders? To better understand the generational dynamics, the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) surveyed 5,940 Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials in the U.S. on what characteristics make leaders most effective. CCL found that when it comes to leadership, the generations are more alike than different.

Respondents were asked to rate the effectiveness of six common leadership characteristics: participative, team-oriented, humane-oriented, charismatic, hierarchical and autonomous. All three generations rated effective leaders as participative, team-oriented, charismatic and humane-oriented. The generations ranked hierarchical and autonomous leaders as less effective.

“Many organizations have anticipated an upheaval of current business structures as more Millennials enter the market and Baby Boomers retire,” said CCL Senior Research Scientist Jennifer Deal. “Our findings dispel commonly held stereotypes including that each generation has different beliefs and expectations about good leadership.”  

Counter-intuitive findings

CCL found that Millennials who are commonly thought of as anti-authority, are more likely than Generation Xers and Baby Boomers to be amenable to managers’ orders. Millennials are also slightly more likely than Generation Xers and Baby Boomers to say that acting in a hierarchical manner helps a leader’s effectiveness.

Older respondents are more likely than younger respondents to favor participative, team-oriented and humane-oriented leaders. While all generations agree charisma is important, younger people identify it as being significantly less helpful to effective leadership than older people do. This is contrary to the perception that Millennials favor these leadership qualities more than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.

“At the core, Millennials, Generation Xers and Baby Boomers want leaders to demonstrate consideration of others,” Deal said. “Instead of tailoring leadership training around assumed generational differences, companies should create a leadership culture that will support employees across generations and demonstrate the value that they see in others.”

About the survey

The sample was taken from CCL’s World Leadership Survey, an online survey that provides information on trends in leadership and perspective on issues leaders deal with daily. Respondents included U.S. managers and other high-ranking professionals. The respondents’ ages ranged from 22 to 78 with a mean age of 46.

About the Center for Creative Leadership
The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) is a top-ranked, global provider of executive education that accelerates strategy and business results by unlocking the leadership potential of individuals and organizations. Founded in 1970, CCL offers an array of research-based programs, products and services for individual leaders, teams and organizations. Ranked among the world's Top 10 providers of executive education by Bloomberg BusinessWeek and the Financial Times, CCL is headquartered in Greensboro, NC, with offices in Colorado Springs, CO; San Diego, CA; Brussels, Belgium; Moscow, Russia; Singapore; New Delhi - NCR, India; Shanghai, China; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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