Young Leadership At The Table

Feb 24, 2022 1 Min Read
Young leadership getting support and assistance from senior leadership
Source:Image by pch.vector on Freepik (https://www.freepik.com/vectors/career-development)
Why is Young Leadership Important?

If you are a boomer or from generation X – have you experienced being led by a young millennial? Whilst senior employees find the younger generation to be inexperienced, privileged, and entitled, why should organisations take bold moves hiring young managers or having young leadership at the table? 

Research suggests that young leaders are rated significantly more effective than their older colleagues. In data of over 65,000 leaders, the research focused on managers aged 30 and under in comparison to leaders above 45 years of age. This research collected data on 49 leadership behaviours. The younger group of leaders scored better on every trait.

The research illustrates that, young talent: -
1. are high potential individuals, and
2. can step into key roles in organisations.

Do younger managers really make better leaders?

The research concluded that young leadership has a noteworthy lead in several aspects. 

1. Receptive to change 

“The younger leaders embraced change and exhibited great skills at marketing their new ideas. They have the courage to make difficult changes.” - Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. The absence of previous failed adventures or experiences or setbacks in life allows them to be optimistic and enthusiastic about implementing new ideas and proposals. 

It’s no wonder why many brilliant young leaders make it to the Forbes 30 under 30 list annually. These change makers are passionate and courageous. They are driven to find solutions to elevate pain points. 

2. Exciting and inspiring

Young leaders are excited and enthusiastic about undertaking challenging tasks and completing them. They have a learning mindset. They are eager to learn, discover, acquire knowledge and skills. With these traits, they tend to inspire their peers to reach greater heights of productivity and efficiency.

A befitting story to share here is that of Jaz Lee, Creative Director at Ogilvy. With no advertising background, this 19-year-old young man (inspired by Don Draper in Mad Men) wrote a letter to Eric Cruz (then Leo Burnett & Arc Malaysia executive creative director), “telling him what advertising was, what it should be, and what is wrong with advertising today”. He got a job at Leo Burnett!! Two to three years into advertising and he was heading a creative team of people in their 30’s and 40’s. 

Jaz is responsible for some well-known campaigns including Petronas' Rubber Boy and Monochrome, Coca-Cola's The Galactic Bottles, Voice of the Children's The Anti-Bullying Bullying Videos, and Samsung Galaxy’s S10: Space Launch, Malaysia's first launch of a phone to space.

He has bagged awards -  local and international and at 23, he became the youngest to hold the position of Creative Director at Ogilvy Malaysia.

Dive deep: Leadership in Children and how it Inspires

3. Grow through feedback

Young leaders or not, we all want to be validated.  The desire to be accepted or to receive encouragement is an integral part of us humans. Young leaders ask for feedback to evaluate themselves and to work on improving their performance. Older leaders on the flip side tend to be less enthusiastic to ask and respond to feedback.

4. Challenge the status quo

Young leadership looks for innovative and novel ways to complete their task more efficiently and with better quality. They want to serve a larger purpose. They want to make a difference and are committed in doing so. Here are a few inspiring stories of the young who in their own ways are making waves in their communities: -

i. Rizky Ashar Murdiono – Rizky, grew up in a high crime area in Surabaya, Indonesia. Industrious, motivated, persistent, he took up odd jobs to pay for his school fees. He says, “Living peacefully is impossible when people have no opportunities.” One of the new initiatives he is working on is ‘Generasi Baik’ (Good Generation), where young urban professionals will be positioned in remote villages to work on economic development. He hopes that the implementation of this initiative will alleviate the financial disparity between urban and rural Indonesia.

ii. Amelia Telford – Amelia is a climate activist. Her Aboriginal identity motivates her to do the work she is undertaking. She says, “It’s our cultural responsibility that we’ve had for tens of thousands of years….. Surrounding yourself with good people that are fighting the good fight is what makes it all worthwhile for me”. Amelia, 24 is the  national director of SEED, an organization supportive of climate activism among indigenous young people.

iii. Samaira Mehta – 13 year old Samaira (yes you read that right, 13) invented two board games to teach kids about coding in a fun and engaging way.  “It’s really important for kids to learn to code because coding is starting to become a crucial part of life. It’s inside our phones and TVs and satellites. It’s what powers drones and self-driving cars.” 

Although the board games were such a hit, she found it challenging to get speaking engagements or hosting workshops because she was so young, “getting people to agree to do things with me was a huge challenge”. Never one to give up – she persisted and eventually had workshops and conferences in Microsoft, Intel and Google. And, former first lady Michelle Obama dropped her a line of encouragement too.

5. Driven by goals

Young adults are very goal and achievement driven. They are continuously assessing their values and goals as they progress through school and work. The older or more senior employees may tend to be less driven, more so if they have been in the same organisation for a while. 

Younger adults are also more pumped up to get things done quicker and more efficiently. Generation Z - what we call digital natives today don’t know what life was like before the invention of smart phones. They are, based on a study, very confident of their tech skills and are happy to share this knowledge with the older work mates.

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Infographic by Leaderonomics: 5 Reasons Young Leadership is Better

Related: Youth as Leaders of Today, Not Tomorrow

What Challenges Does Young Leadership Face?

Although having young managers or representation at management level are beneficial, it also comes with its set of issues and liabilities. 

1. Opinions of young leaders are not fully trusted for their lack of experience. Older colleagues are not at ease reporting to someone younger. This means rapport is not easily built within the team. Jaz Lee faced hostility because of his youth. “My biggest struggle was getting the respect of my team members”, said Jaz.
2. Although the younger manager may have more updated knowledge or are more tech savvy, they may not have in depth knowledge of the organisation or crystallised intelligence (experiential knowledge and job relevant expertise).
3. Due to their lack of experience or naivety or having faced fewer challenges, they may be insensitive to other people’s needs. These blind spots stem from a lack of self-awareness. Working on these blind spots through self-reflection increases emotional intelligence levels and this contributes to higher productivity, motivation and engagement.  
4. Younger managers lack strategic perspective. They focus on day-to-day tasks and place less emphasis on long term plans. 

Given the above, should companies embrace young leadership?

Why Is Generational Diversity Important

Now that we've looked at the benefits and drawbacks, how can organisations advance, prosper, and be productive with young leadership? It, like everything else in life, necessitates a certain level of equilibrium. A well-balanced, depth-filled, and diverse team.

Diversity in teams should not only consider one’s ethnicity, gender and work experience, but also include age.  

Organisations with mixed and diverse age groups, gain from diversity of thought. The mix brings different strengths and perspectives. The young are driven, passionate, tech savvy and bring fresh perspective to the table. The older teammates offer a fair amount of social capital (connections built over time), are more grounded, have crystallised intelligence, easily formulate overarching strategies and are competent in developing long term plans. 

Related: Reverse Mentoring Can Eliminate Ageism In The Workplace


Whilst multi-generational or diverse teams are advantageous, it must however be managed effectively as generational gap concerns are valid. Much has been said about implementing diversity, equity and inclusivity policies, but the ‘hows’ are rarely addressed. Research has shown 3 common challenges faced by diverse teams.

1. Diverse backgrounds and work experience makes it difficult to understand each other’s work.
2. With very diverse teams, there can be absence of unity. There can be distrust and conflicts. 
3. Diverse teams cooperate less effectively and tend not to share information. This can be disastrous.

To overcome this, the team “has to identify themselves as part of a group and feel proud to be a part of it”. In the broader scheme of things, the employees must work with each other, focused on the same future, goals and purpose. A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that "being a part of a mixed-age workplace group enhanced motivation for both older and younger colleagues and raised their intent to stay with the organisation," which is encouraging to note. In addition, Juliet Funt’s exit strategy on how to make decisions in larger groups is good advise to take note of.  

In conclusion, there is no clear formula, or straightforward answer. To close the generational gaps, organisations must continue to develop their people to ease the age diversity challenges. 

As Tim Berners-Lee said, “We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges”.


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Lead Editor leaderonomics.com

Kiran Tuljaram, the Lead Editor at Leaderonomics, brings a wealth of experience to her role. With a background as a trained lawyer, she dedicated nearly a decade to the banking industry before embarking on her entrepreneurial journey. Following her tenure as a Legal Manager at a bank, Kiran founded and successfully ran multiple businesses, including the establishment of her own fashion accessories label. Balancing her entrepreneurial endeavours, Kiran is also a devoted mother to three girls. Her varied background in banking, motherhood, employment, occasional social work, and managing director in her business has provided her with invaluable insights and a unique perspective on the critical importance of leadership within organisations.

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