Millennial Leadership Training for Nonprofit Managers

A new generation is filling the nonprofit leadership pipeline, requiring a fresh approach to high-potential talent development.

My son is a Millennial (although he hates when I use that word) and a nonprofit professional. As he’s grown up and taken on leadership roles, I’ve noticed he is extremely collaborative. Perhaps his comfort with online communities and social networks have cultivated this preference toward inclusivity. His peers and he value access to all employees in the organization, regardless of role or position, and tend to deliberate with others before making decisions. What I had interpreted in my Millennial employees’ as indecision, I have come to see as a model for how we can all work better together.

Millennial employees bump fists above a table during a meeting.

“The emerging trend in leadership is a manager who directs, not commands,” says Forbes contributor Ashira Prossack in her article, “How Millennials Are Changing the Way We View Leadership.” She portends that inclusive leadership is replacing the long-held authoritarian approach characteristic of my generation.

This new leadership guard is forging a new workplace. Millennials often advocate for cultures that support flexible and remote work practices in the nonprofit sector. For example, some organizations are replacing closed offices and conference rooms with open air workspaces that promote collaborative work. And many younger employees are forgoing the physical office altogether in favor of remote work.

“Long gone are the days when the boss can hold the role of a dictator, disconnected from the employees, and sitting somewhere in a corner office,” Prossack adds.

Developing emerging leaders in an evolving workplace

Throughout my career, I’ve managed many up-and-coming leaders. Here’s what I’ve learned when it comes to developing today’s talent for future leadership.

Choose to trust. Our digital world has turned a traditional nine-to-five workday on its head. Millennials prefer to work when and where they want. At times, I was tempted to think that if my employees weren’t in the office, they weren’t working. I discovered, however, that Millennials work more than many of my peers, but their line between what constitutes work time and what doesn’t is completely blurred. Their work takes place in the corner coffee shop, at home at 11 pm, or as they network with friends in similar lines of work. By and large, Millennials’ relationship with work is much more fluid and flexible than their predecessors. The more I trust them with their time and honor their desire for work-life balance and autonomy, the more I watch them grow into empowered leaders.

Prioritize communication and connection. Open air offices encourage open communication, and Millennials create the spaces where they are best able to connect. The move to omit physical barriers like office walls and doors symbolizes their desire for a flatter organization structure, where all voices are heard, and all people are empowered to contribute. Embrace such changes of this new workplace, understanding they are a necessary environment for a new leadership approach. Similarly, champion a remote workforce by providing the tools and resources required for connection. For example, I have a friend who works with an organization that is co-located all over the country, and her role is to manage a remote team in such a way that they feel connected to the organization’s purpose and to each other.

Collaboration is key. Many young leaders do not want to climb a ladder to become an executive director of their nonprofit agency. The hierarchical model of a lone leader who is seated at the apex of the organization and calling all the shots is foreign and unappealing to them. A different approach, given this generation’s love affair with collaboration, is to develop leadership teams that share responsibility and authority. And when developing leaders, it’s important to think about training high-potential talent in a team environment—the context in which Millennials thrive. Today nonprofit leadership is less about linear succession, and more about mobilizing the entire C-suite to lead together.

If you’re a nonprofit manager struggling to effectively develop your high-potential leaders, organizational development consulting firm Brighter Strategies is here to help. We believe people are an organization’s most valuable asset, and when they are working to their full potential, the entire organization wins. Learn more about our consulting services here.