The “Why” Generation


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This is the third article in the Next Generation Leadership Series. Click to read the first and second articles.
Work-life balance: the millennial dream and the employer nightmare. I presented on the topic of millennials to a group of professionals at the Construction Specification Institute Phoenix Chapter. Their biggest struggle was trying to attract younger employees to their companies. The room was polluted with confusion about the trends of “work-life balance”. What is work-life balance? Who decides when work and “life” are in perfect harmony? Why is this new idea so pervasive among young professionals?

The Internet

A married couple boards a plane to Fiji with two kids ages 4 and 2. They don’t own any cars, they don’t live in house, and all their belongings fit within two suitcases and one carryon each. For 100 weeks straight, The Bucket List Family went on a perpetual “vacation” around the world. This lifestyle was made possible when Garrett Gee, the Bucket List Father, sold a bar code scanning app to Snapchat for $54 million. The real kicker is that Gee still hasn’t touched a cent of that money. Instead, him and his wife were inspired to sell their cars and belongings, so they could travel with $45,000. As they traveled, they shared their story on social media, gained a massive following, and soon started turning a profit.
The Gee family is living the millennial dream. They are the embodiment of work-life balance.
Twenty years ago, stories like The Bucket List Family weren’t shared worldwide at rapid speed. Modern media is like an IV drip of success stories streaming to everyone with internet access. The millennial generation grew up in a more transparent age. They heard all about the dreams that were coming true. They read about kids who became millionaires before they were old enough to rent cars. They watched movies based on the notion “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Their expectations were set on the top shelf, and now they’re looking for a career that gives them a ladder.
Millennials don’t want to settle for a job, they want to find careers that allow them to pursue their dreams. They want to work with a company that shares their ideologies. Work-life balance isn’t about more time at home, it’s about career-aspiration alignment.

A Changing Workplace

Workforce culture is changing. This change has created two issues among employers: higher career expectations and a desire for more personal freedom.
High career expectations
Young employees want earlier advancements, greater upward mobility, and higher profile positions. Millennials want to know that they are adding value in a company that’s making a difference in the world.
More personal freedom
Many employers think that millennials aren’t prepared for more responsibilities. That they lack accountability. But we propose that millennials don’t take accountability because they don’t feel like a stakeholder. It’s a catch-22. Overbearing employers suffocate young dreams. Millennials want to contribute to a vision instead of being forced through a corporate assembly line.
Despite the popular narrative, millennials are flocking to leadership positions more than any other generation. According to a workplace trends survey, 91% of millennials aspire to be leaders. Currently, 50% of working millennials hold a leadership position. Additionally, 40% of millennials say that they want to stay with a company for more than 10 years in hopes of career advancements.
Many professionals worry that there aren’t enough management positions to meet the millennial demand. They might be right, but there’s an important differential between management and leadership. Many recent grads don’t want to be managers, they want a career that affords room for big ideas, flexibility, and creative control. In fact, many companies are finding very creative ways to make that happen.
If a company offered you a job and let you choose your hours, your salary, and gave you complete freedom to do whatever you wanted, would you take it? Companies like SEMCO, Gore-Tex, Zappos are making this dream a reality. These companies have completely eliminated management positions. They have created more transparency and accountability throughout their organizations. Many organizations are taking similar approaches. They have started allowing flexible hours and incorporating leisure activities into the office. Most importantly, they are encouraging employees to take creative control over unique projects. By the looks of it, these trends will only continue to grow as more millennials enter the workforce.

Are We Prepared for the Change?

Many companies are responding to the demand for more leadership opportunities. But are students being prepared for this kind of workplace? The current school system is designed to prepare students for an antiquated work model. Students are taught based on standards and uniformity, not creativity and innovation. Students are rewarded based on their ability to follow directions regurgitate information.

Students should be being prepared for the workplace they will have. Graduates want leadership positions and companies are becoming more leadership-oriented. It’s about time that we prepare our students to be leaders. Children need opportunities to exercise creative control. They need free time to think about who they are and what they want to do. They need guidance from mentors to help them cultivate important leadership habits. These emphasize continuous growth, personal accountability, and learning to utilize others’ expertise.

This is the heart of our mission at the Leadership Society of Arizona. Students can learn how to become leaders through all aspects in the life, but they need guidance. They need opportunities to talk about their ideas and they need time to test out their ideas. We work with schools and teachers to create these opportunities in the classroom. We also hold summer leadership camps to give students a jump-start on their path to improved leadership.


Millennials want the freedom to dream. Companies are creating innovative ways to provide it. It is now time for the education system to respond.
In our next article we will answer the big remaining question: if everyone wants to be a leader, who’s going to perform the labor?

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