Can Millennials Handle the C-Suite?

Millennials now make up the largest percentage of the American labor force and will eventually become C-Suite level executives at some of the country’s biggest and most influential corporations and businesses.

Russell Reynolds Associates (RRA), one of the leading executive search firms, recently conducted a survey of 5,000 executives and concluded that C-Suite level executives have four necessary attributes: seeking varied activities, being adaptable, trusting others and embracing calculated risk.

While RRA found that existing C-Suite level executives possessed all of these traits, Millennials are lacking in trusting others and embracing calculated risk.

Dean Stamoulis, Head of the Center for Leadership Insight at RRA, told that the most significant factor for a C-Suite executive to have is embracing risk--the same characteristic that Millennials don’t possess. “A certain fearlessness and comfort in taking risk is important to the C-Suite overall,” says Stamoulis.

Neil Howe, the founding partner of Lifecourse Associates and best known for coining the term ‘Millennial,’ says that Millennials distaste for risk originates from how they were raised via the so-called helicopter parents. “Parents went out of their way to protect kids. Now these same kids think they have to protect themselves,” he said in an interview.

But Millennials avoidance of risk could become problematic for the future of banking. “In our banking clients, this becomes really nuanced and difficult because of banking executives’ desire for growth, while still having significant regulations.” Stamoulis says that when working with banking clients, RRA has doubled down on the work they do with Millennials to increase their comfort level with risk.

Howe says though, that by the time Millennials take over the C-Suite in the late 2040s, the corporate world will feel very different. “It’s going to be a bit more rule driven, standards driven. Much of the corporate world of the late ‘50s was very different from the late ‘20s. We constantly go through these changes.” So Millennials’ avoidance for risk may not be completely harmful to corporations.

Politics is one industry, however where Millennials may be more likely to embrace risk. Alex Smith, Chair of the College Republican National Committee (CRNC), says “In politics, especially the Republican Party, there’s very much a way of doing things.” Smith noted how the CRNC at times has tried various approaches to reach Millennial voters, like experimenting with new advertisements, that has caused friction with the establishment. But she says that it’s this exact risk-taking that Millennial leaders in politics need going forward.