Leading from Behind: An Innovative Leadership Approach to Engage Millennials and Boomers

Publication of proceedings of conference presentation of research abstract and paper, both peer-reviewed.



As the numbers of baby boomers decrease and millennials increase in the workforce, organizations are presented with the challenge and question of how they can bridge the gap and engage both groups. Expanding on Nelson Mandela’s notion of “leading from behind”, Linda Hill compares leadership to “collective activity” and “collective genius”, focused on collaborative skills and value-based leadership. Based on an understanding of what people find important and value in the workplace, value-based leadership fosters an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive and contribute. This paper will explore the workplace needs of baby boomers and millennials and suggest an innovative leadership approach, through the lens of Hill’s “collective genius”, to engage both groups and facilitate the value-based production of future generation leaders.

By 2025, millennials worldwide will increase in numbers and will make up three-quarters, 75%, of the global workforce. The website of PwC (2013) revealed results of their research, the largest global generational study ever, of its firms in 158 countries world-wide. They learned that 71% of employees are millennials. Millennials are, indeed, the largest percentage of the global workforce (Pinzaru, Vatamanescu, Mitan, Savulescu, Vitelar, Noaghea, and Balan, 2016). In the United States matters are similar. The number of millennials continues to increase significantly, however, baby boomers continue to dwindle in the workplace. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2015, millennials totaled 83.1 million, boomers, 75.4 million. More than a third of American workers are millennials, making this group the largest generational group in the United States working population. However, despite the decrease among boomers and the increase of millennials in the workforce, the overlap of these two groups in the workplace is projected to continue through the 2030s. The potential for generational group tension and conflict is enormous. The question and challenge for organizations, not only in America, but globally, becomes how to engage these generational groups and cultivate and promote an environment in which both groups thrive. One of PwC’s (2013) findings was that millennials are creating a “seismic upheaval” in the work world resulting in a need for organizations to develop a foundation of innovative strategies and paradigms upon which to build. How can organizations do this? What can they do?

Expanding on Mandela’s (1994) coined phrase and notion of employee empowerment called leading from behind, Hill, Brandeau, Truelove, & Lineback, 2014, compare leadership to “collective activity” and “collective genius”. The premise rests on a value-based model of leadership and focuses on everyone’s collaborative skills and collective genius. Based on an understanding of what people find important to them and what they value in the workplace, value- based leadership fosters an inclusive environment where everyone can contribute and thrive. This paper explores the workplace needs of baby boomers and millennials and suggest an alternative innovative leadership approach that leaders can employ to engage both groups and facilitate value- based production of next-generation leaders.

Literature on generational cohorts is extensive, and there is no shortage of studies and other articles that identify what is important to both millennial and boomer employees. Millennials, born 1977-2000, are portrayed as selfish, difficult, demanding, entitled, and even lazy. The literature revealed that millennials need a caring employer with whom they can develop a relationship based on direct and open communication. They want a boss with whom they can become partners. They want leaders who are supportive and who provide guidance. Millennials crave and thrive on constant and constructive, positive feedback from their leaders. They want and demand it.

Millennials have high expectations for job advancement and seek leadership positions. They want to lead early in their careers, knowing the path to advancement. They are collaborative workers and view their jobs as a means to an end. While a good salary is important, millennials, according to Smith & Nichols (2015), prefer meaningful and enjoyable work to financial gains. Millennials tend to be more life than work when it comes to the life-work balance. They appreciate a comfortable work environment that is respectful and professional. They dislike working after hours and prefer flexible hours. They will question and challenge the status quote and conventional approaches to work. They also dislike a work culture that has strict rules and regulations (Fishman, 2016). 


This publication has been peer reviewed.
Publication Type: 
Conference Proceedings
Betty Jones Goyens
Year of Publication: 
Journal, Book, Magazine or Other Publication Title: 
An Official Publication of the Association of Global Management Studies, Proceedings of the 2018 (8th) International Conference of the Association of Global Management Studies
Association of Global Management Studies
Date Published: 
Wednesday, August 1, 2018
Place Published: 
Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA
Publication Language: 
ISSN Number: 
Print - 2150-846; Online - 2150-8488
Dr. Daniel Tomiuk Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada
Dr. Hamid Motaghi Université du Québec en Outaouais, Canada
Dr. Mukesh Srivastava University of Mary Washington, USA
Boyer's Domain: 

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