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This article was first published in the September 2018 Ireland edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Now in their mid-20s, millennials – a generation who grew up alongside increasing internet usage and the switch to online working – will be heading towards leadership roles over the course of the next decade. And as those millennials move up the management ranks, they are set to change the face of the practice world.

The preference of millennials for teamwork, constant communication and social responsibility will bring about a reshaping of how practices are run. Individualistic, bottom-line management styles will fall from favour and be replaced by encouragement for workplace cultures of social connectedness and diversity.

Born between the late 1980s and the turn of the century, the millennial cohort grew up with the concept of team dynamics in school as well as sport. Before that, the old school leadership approaches of dictatorial control and bullying were more common.

As millennials make their way through the practice ranks and gain experience, how can firms benefit and create opportunities from what will be an unprecedented generational leadership skills swap? And how can practice leaders nurture and hone their leadership talents?

Making the transition

At the learning and development level, millennials can be transitioned into practice leadership roles through a combination of formal training, self-directed online learning, mentoring, coaching and individual career development planning.

Elisabeth Kelan, professor of leadership at Cranfield School of Management, argues in her book Rising Stars that the key to developing millennials into future leaders and making them happy is to ensure they can be authentic and build their self-awareness. Social connectedness, visibility and collaboration are central too. Millennials like role models. Current practice leaders need to cultivate a culture of curiosity and learning within their firms while also maintaining client deadlines and productivity levels.

There is thought to be a growing global empathy deficit, which allows self-absorption to rule, yet workplaces need more empathy and awareness to improve employee engagement and to develop rising stars into leaders within evolving workplaces.

Millennial management

To facilitate a generational skills swap, managers in practice should take the following approaches with millennials:

  1. Use feedback. The ability to give and receive feedback is one of the most critical skills modern managers need to have under their belt. Constant feedback loops are important, particularly for millennials used to instant responses on social media platforms.
  2. Ensure there are career development plans. Offering millennials opportunities to own their own career development plans is vital in coaching them in how to manage, when to knuckle down and show career grit, and when to push for promotion.
  3. Build relationships and trust face to face. While millennials are usually effective at collaborating, they can often default to technology for communication. The practice leader’s job is to create value through people and to encourage contact and face-to-face interaction.
  4. Use data to aid decision-making. Finance leadership today means being comfortable with the use of internal data to make key decisions. Being data-savvy is a skill all managers are expected to master and will win you buy-in from your millennial team.
  5. Devote time to internal and external team-building skills. Build a culture of social connectedness where empathy is a social glue that allows people to connect. Effective practice leaders realise that true leadership is not about them individually, but the kind of organisation they create.
  6. Build and communicate a vision. Millennials like leaders with a big vision. They find it motivating, encouraging, and something they will work towards.
  7. Learn to recruit the right people. Learning how to hire the right person is a key skill that every manager of millennials needs to get to grips with.
  8. Become a constant learner driven by curiosity. If you manage millennials, you need to set an example by showing a commitment to ongoing learning and skills development. This will filter down.
  9. Keep your door open. Nurturing the people who report to you is a fundamental requirement. Be aware of everything, but don’t be a control freak - micromanagement undermines loyalty and works against you in the long run.

Partners need to create the space and the time to plan how they will manage the intergenerational skills swap. As well as internal resources, there are external consultancies and business coaches who can provide insight into the steps to take to ensure tomorrow’s partners can lead as effectively as their predecessors.

Jane Downes is the founder of Clearview Coaching Group and (along with ex-Google director Natalie Bagnall) the Leadership Rooms