5 Reasons Your Company Needs a Millennial CEO

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Ever hear the expression “What got us here won’t get us where we need to go next?”

I keep thinking about our companies’ leaders, and that saying nags at me. Maybe it’s time for some brand-new leadership, something radically different from the same-old-same-old we’ve groomed and promoted for generations now.

I know, I know: “Ted, you’re one of us. What are you doing!?” And it’s true. I’m so much a Gen X-er that I’m almost a Boomer. What I’m espousing is generational treason!

So be it.

I work with a lot of technology startups, and I interview a lot of business leaders of all stripes, all the time, from the most staid Fortune 100 to three-person garage firms and all in between. There’s something different about young leaders who have had to come of age in this ongoing train wreck of an economy. Something resilient, something resourceful and something inspiring.

So let me list why I think your company could do worse than to replace your current CEO with a Young Turk from Gen-Y.

Maybe Experience Is a Liability

Maybe loyalty to “How it’s always been done,” and a mastery of “What’s possible and what isn’t,” just isn’t going to serve you as well as it did last century. Maybe you need someone who has little grasp of what’s possible and what’s not.

Millennials Are Social Natives

They’re plugged in and social, and have been since birth. They intuitively get the technology their peers are inventing. Have you noticed how afraid of social media most grownups are? Your new Gen-Y CEO will not have that problem.

Their Leadership Style Is Open By Default

As Jamie Notter pointed out in a recent must-read post, probably the greatest boon we’ll experience from social media has nothing to do with the technology at all – it’s the opening up of our organizations’ cultures to match the openness of social media. Want someone to lead the way? My bet is on your digital native CEO.

Nimble is normal for Gen-Y

Unlike for the rest of us, who often feel sea-sick with all the change our economy is going through all the time, your Gen-Y leader knows nothing else. That agility is priceless!

Recognition Is Second Nature

Millennials are criticized a lot for their constant need for recognition. Tough. We raised ’em that way, and we aren’t going to change them now. Since a Millennial CEO is so used to seeking feedback, they’re naturals at providing it, too.

Finally, returning to the first point about untested leaders, let me leave you with this thought: In his fascinating book Indispensible, Harvard Business School professor Gautam Mukunda studied leaders who were tested by long years of experience working and rising within “the system,” such as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin. He contrasted members of that leadership group against those who entered leadership roles either virtually untested, such as Abraham Lincoln, or who were rejected as unfit to lead by “the system” earlier in their careers, such as Winston Churchill.

What Professor Mukunda’s study showed was fascinating. As he illustrates masterfully in his book, the thoroughly-vetted leaders were neither all that terrible or all that great. However, both ends of the performance spectrum, disastrous and transformative, belonged to the untested or rejected leaders.

What does that tell you about bringing in a Millennial CEO to lead your organization – who by the very fact of her youth will be relatively untested? What it tells me is, you will either have massive success or major trouble.

Want safe? Don’t take my advice: don’t hire or promote a “youngster” to lead your company.

But is there even such a thing as safety anymore? Wasn’t RIM (Blackberry) safe? Wasn’t Kodak? If you ask me, safe is about the most dangerous decision a board can make in the Twenty-teens.

Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • danperezfilms

    This is what so-called “thought leaders” specialize in: fantastic ideology. You give a bunch of reasons why you should hire a millennial CEO then summarize your post with: “you will either have massive success or major trouble.”
    Genius.

  • Saying that Millenials are social is a bit of a stretch. Yes, they have grown up with technology, but many are also addicted to their Smartphones and “socialize” less as a result.

    So while I agree with you that we should definitely give Millennials a chance to lead companies, I feel that it would be better to give anyone with a proven record of being open, technology-savvy, and nimble a chance.

  • Ted, once again you’ve brought up some brilliant thoughts. Although as a millennial, I’m certainly biased. :-)

    I can’t wait to do something transformative and special. Most of us will have to wait our turn (why I left corporate America and started my own thing), but when we get our chance, we will shine. We were the ones that graduated from school into hell…and we found a way. We’re still here and we’re hungry. We’re tough. We’re not spoiled anymore.

    We’ve got battle scars.

    Thanks for recognizing some of the good qualities. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy your stuff. You’re a brilliant guy.

  • Ted, once again you’ve brought up some brilliant thoughts. Although as a millennial, I’m certainly biased. :-)

    I can’t wait to do something transformative and special. Most of us will have to wait our turn (why I left corporate America and started my own thing), but when we get our chance, we will shine. We were the ones that graduated from school into hell…and we found a way. We’re still here and we’re hungry. We’re tough. We’re not spoiled anymore.

    We’ve got battle scars.

    Thanks for recognizing some of the good qualities. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy your stuff. You’re a brilliant guy.

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