Ingo Kallenbach

How do you train future executives of the generation Y?

Much has already been written about the “Gen Y“. Significantly more than about any other generation before. Meanwhile the largest part of those born between ´77 and ´98 have settled down in companies. Now the question is no longer how they want to be led and what needs to be considered in doing so, but how they are prepared and how they can be qualified for the subject of “leadership“. Thus, the next wave, the next development step is approaching.

Before we dive deeper into the subject, we would like to invite you to participate in the following thought experiment. Provided that you are an executive and provided you have 20 years of experience and provided that you deal a lot with Gen Y people, but you don’t know anything about them or their labelling. What differences do you think you would actually find in comparison to other generations? Apart from the fact that everything was better in the good old days anyway …
You would probably notice that the people with whom you are working together are all quite different. Some are continuously using social networks, others avoid them like the devil the holy water. This shall not contradict the significance of sociological “panels“, but make aware that in the end this is also a kind of labelling or drawer, and that we should generally be very careful in putting all those born in this time into one drawer. In the foreground is the human being that stands in front of you and not the well-performed studies. Furthermore: What does it trigger among the millennials themselves, when they read what they are like? The self-fulfilling prophecy sends its regards.

With these preliminary considerations in mind back to the subject (and as well to the drawers). In a recent American study (which can be requested from us) of 527 millennials, the following interesting results regarding the subject of leadership evolved:


  • 96% said that for them it was important to be an executive once (!!!).
  • 72% said they had been an executive, however only 48% of them actually had a disciplinary executive role.
  • 60% said that they were ill-prepared for their executive role with only 10 hours of training within the last 12 months. Furthermore, they said that the training mix was unsuitable, with too much emphasis on E-learning and too little significance on experienced-based learning. The participants on the contrary wanted coaching/mentorship, job rotation and specific work tasks as well as internships.
  • As a last interesting insight, many millennials emphasized that the possibility of taking on a leadership role had a significant influence on the engagement and the retention period in the company.


Which conclusions can you draw as a decision maker in the business?


  • Leadership seems to have a superordinates role for Gen Y. Thus, create as many opportunities as possible, e.g. by means of continuously changing leadership roles or by experiences abroad - not by centuries-old, statically defined career paths.
  • Leadership is defined differently: not only the classical, that is disciplinary, roles count as leadership, but all tasks that are connected to leadership, e.g. project leadership or professional/functional leadership. This is consistent with other studies and the contemporary “Zeitgeist“, in which company structures are much more flat and less hierarchically. Prepare your company for new work types: the business world is changing - it is becoming more flat, agile, democratic, and transparent. You decide, whether you want to be a part of it (see also New leadership and working culture, Reinventing organisations).
  • A specific development programme makes sense in which experience-based learning (project, working task), job-related learning (coaching, mentoring) and training should make up a share of approx. 70:20:10.
  • Take a close look at your training contents, maintain the essential basics which have not changed for the Gen Y either: self-knowledge, emotional intelligence, communication, cooperation, wanting to develop others.

What can you take along?
Write down your experiences (or prejudices and drawers) with regard to the so-called Gen Y. Compare these experiences with the results of the study: what can you confirm, what not? Put your leadership culture under close scrutiny: how do you become an executive in your company? How long does it take to get there? How many switches back into another role are possible? Are these associated with a loss of face? How modern is the setup of your company? What do you notice when you compare your development programme for executives with the above-mentioned aspects? With the help of this brief analysis you should be well-prepared to answer the initial question.