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How To Give Leadership To Millennials Without A Promotion

How To Give Leadership To Millennials Without A Promotion

The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey estimates 63% of millennials say their leadership skills are not being developed. That number is alarmingly high, because essentially two out of every three employees have a desire to lead at work. Yet, despite their desire to lead and grow as leaders, companies are not creating those opportunities for leadership and increased engagement.

Many millennials, and their employers, mistakenly assume that leadership at work comes only from a title. In other words, too many think leadership can only happen through a promotion. Yet, students of leadership know this is not true. Leadership expert John Maxwell has stated “Leadership is influence.” Leading people is not about a title or a position, but instead about the ability to influence people towards change.

Millennials want to grow as leaders, but don’t always have the opportunity at work. (Credit:


With that in mind, how can companies give leadership opportunity to millennials? What can employers do to give millennials opportunities to influence change in their workplace? After all, millennials are the largest living generation, and are already the largest generation in the workforce. It is estimated that 75% of the workforce will be of the millennial generation by 2025, so what can employers do now to start developing leaders?

Leading in Circles

An Atlanta office for a global PR firm has managed to address this problem in a creative way. The Atlanta team for Porter Novelli began asking several years ago how they could flatten the organizational hierarchy and give leadership opportunities to more people.

As they looked for answers, they decided to start creating “circles” in the company. A circle, loosely defined, is a group of employees focusing on a specific topic. The topics range from people wanting to improve an aspect of the business to personal passions outside of the office. Anyone can join the circle, and anyone can lead it. It gives younger employees a chance to work directly with more seasoned coworkers, and it also gives everyone an opportunity to lead beyond the day-to-day work.

The circles vary in their focus. For example, the “Client Service Excellence Circle” focuses on best practices for achieving goals for serving clients well. Anyone in the company can be in this circle, and the diverse range of departments represented allows people to speak into a key aspect of the business.

But not every circle is focused on work. The Fun Circle plans everything from parties, holidays, and the summer kickball team on Thursdays. At each monthly meeting, the members of the circle plan the next thing.

These circles have a direct impact on the daily work of the team. Taking a break from your normal work can be refreshing and healthy. Meeting with the circle can provide an opportunity to shift gears and think differently.

While mental breaks are great, strong relationships are what improve collaboration and office morale. Working with people outside of the normal team allows employees to connect with coworkers in a different environment, and relationships are strengthened when people have new experiences together. A stronger office bond leads to better collaboration, a healthier culture, and even lower turnover.

Starting Circles in Your Office

If you and other employees are looking for leadership opportunities, then consider the circles concept. There is no cost associated with it, and the ROI far outweighs the time invested by those who participate.

Maybe you don’t have the authority to implement it across the entire company, but here are three ways that you can start circles in your office.

Present the idea to your manager. Give some specific examples of how it would look in your company. Maybe you present two or three circles-like one focused on fun and another focused on leadership development-that are easy to understand. Ask for the opportunity to create these circles on a trial basis to determine if they work.

Find like-minded people to join the trial circles. Extend this invitation to everyone in the company. You might be surprised as to who expresses interest in joining the circle. Invite people from all departments and all generations to join. These groups thrive on a diversity of age, background, and experience.

Meet monthly for three months with a specific goal in mind. For example, if you start your own Fun Circle, then start with a goal to plan a certain number of activities. This is a low pressure goal, so make it easy. Once the group achieves the goal, it is easy to gain momentum for the next goal.

After an effective trial period, your manager will likely see the benefits of Circles. Yes, these groups may bring clarity to a problem or help improve the overall company culture. Perhaps the greatest benefit, however, is the increased engagement among millennial employees. When millennials are given a chance to lead, they are more likely to be engaged in their work. Greater engagement leads to better work, and better work makes a better company.

Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter. Visit my website for more resources to expand your leadership influence.



Wes Gay

<p>I am a regular contributor to and, where I focus on what companies do to find & keep great millennial talent. I am also a StoryBrand Certified Copywriter helping companies amplify clarity in their brand messaging. Follow me on @wesgay</p>