July 25, 2022 | Mona Oates

Millennials: Adaptive Leaders in Higher Education Institutions

Millennials are now the largest working group in the United States. They are coming of age to be leaders. Born in the 1980s and 1990s, they experienced great economic uncertainties, which taught them to permanently adapt to rapidly changing environments. This condition primed them to be Adaptive Leaders in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).

Higher Education Institutions need Adaptive Leaders

Higher Education Institution’s (HEIs) originated in 11th century Europe. The rigid hierarchy’s structure is antiquated and ill-suited for today’s constantly changing world.

HEIs’ top-down leadership with a multi-level approval process is vulnerable to disruption such as the Covid-19 pandemic and new technologies. Modern issues demand egalitarian and equitable approaches, which are the preferred leadership approach of Millennials.

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted HEIs’ systems and helped redefine norms and examine the leadership roles. Institutions struggled to adapt to tackle issues of remote learning, social isolation, and dropping enrollment. The toils could have been avoided if it was easier to adapt institutions’ rigid rules and traditions to modern technology and equitable leadership. Higher Ed needs leaders who are agents of change and adept to challenges.

Leaders of HEIs need to embrace change, manage crisis, adapt fluidly, and prepare institutions and their people to cope effectively in constantly changing environments.

This coming generation is an opportunity for transformational change by tackling HEIs’ rising cost, market and workforce instability, and politics.

Who Are Millennials: Leaders of Change

Millennials are the largest generational workforce to date. They are more diverse and have a strong relationship with technology. Millennials are highly ambitious and expect flexibility in their positions. This flexibility can range from adopting new responsibilities, workflows, and quick career growth. These high expectations about their work experience result in challenges for old hierarchal traditions.

Millennials have strong work characteristic, which makes them stand out from previous generations:

  • They are technology savvy
  • Possess diverse communication skills
  • Are racially and ethnically Diverse
  • They are adaptive innovators
  • Team oriented
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Seek a culture of mentorship
  • Are raised in a volatile economy that created a challenging workforce

Compared to previous generations Millennials will not stay with an institution unless loyalty goes both ways. An employer ought to be authentically caring about all life aspects including work-life balance and opportunities to grow in their aspirations.


Millennials’ Approach to Leadership

Millennials bring their own attitudes toward leadership, work environment and organizational culture. Many embrace an environment where all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities. This egalitarian emphasis is not in line with HEIs’ preference for hierarchy and rigid department structures. However, Millennials challenging existing systems should not be perceived as a threat but HEIs can embrace their opinions, involve them in the process, and provide feedback to allow growth individually and positively impact the organization.

Millennials have created a new economic and cultural landscape via collaboration, social change, egalitarianism. This adaptive leadership approach has the potential to transform HEIs’ structure and strengthen them against future disruptions.


Adaptive Leadership

Adaptability as a critical skill reflects in leaders who change behaviors, feelings, and thoughts to environmental demands. Such characteristics enable individuals to identify problems, address change, and increase people’s capacity to embrace uncertainty.

Ultimately this leads to the idea that leaders do not have all the answers but work with their community to change and solve issues. Once more a hierarchical system needs to seek a more flexible structure.


Read more on Diverse Groups that benefit your organization: