Motivating Milllennials to Lead


The subject of motivation for the generation known as the Millennials is a hot topic across the business world, but it is also a frustration for many educators. How do we motivate these students? And more importantly, how do we motivate them to take on leadership roles within education programs and in advocacy for the future of our profession? The purpose of this educational session is to discuss the current research on the subject of leadership and the Millennials. The session will address the link between the characteristics of this generation and the lack or lack thereof in motivation to lead. Participants will obtain insight into understanding the motivation Millennial students are looking for to take on leadership roles as a student and as a professional. The session will promote the development of strategies to motivate our Millennial students and new professionals to acquire the leadership skills to become advocates for our profession.

Methods and/or Description of Project

The idea of leadership has been given many definitions throughout the years. Winston and Patterson gave the following definition in 2006, “A leader is one or more people who selects, equips, trains, and influences one or more follower(s) who have diverse gifts, abilities, and skills and focuses the follower(s) to the organization’s mission and objectives causing the follower(s) to willingly and enthusiastically expend spiritual, emotional, and physical energy in a concerted coordinated effort to achieve the organizational mission and objectives.” 1 As our culture has changed, the question arises about the validity of this definition of a leader to the generation known as Millennials. One of the strongest characteristics noted in this generation is their ability to be self-reliant and also their willingness to question authority.2 For Millennials, their definition and motivation for leadership is shaped by their generational characteristics. The strongest characteristics for motivation to pursue roles of leadership are found in their attitudes, values, and beliefs.3 Due to their team-oriented mindset4 and their approach to communication5, the Millennial generation tends to respond more positively to the participative leadership style.3 This type of leadership style feeds the Millennial desire to be a part of organizational communication and the need to have involvement in decision-making.6 These characteristics of the Millennial generation have promoted an adaptive leadership style in the workplace to attract employees of this age group. The definition of adaptive leadership has been described by Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky as “the practice of mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges and thrive.” 7 The idea of adaptive leadership is beneficial to working with Millennials, as the process of leadership is focused on helping an individual person within the organization succeed and not entirely on the success of the organization.
Understanding the type of leadership style the Millennial generation responds to is only half the battle of solving the mystery of their lack of involvement in leadership roles. What is the motivation for this generation to pursue roles of leadership and advocacy? What are the barriers they identify which keep them from getting more involved in these areas?
In the 1960s, David McClelland developed the Three Needs Theory, which was an attempt to explain the motivation of an individual to obtain achievement, power, and affiliation.8 The three areas of motivation were studied in medical students from Generation X and Generation Y, or Millennials, in 2010. It was found that motivational needs were different for the groups, with the Millennials scoring higher in areas of achievement and affiliation and Generation Y scoring higher in power.9 Due to the definition of leadership being more non-traditional than in previous generations, the motivation to take on leadership roles is also different for Millennials. Generally, this generation has a distrust for large institutions and organizations, which has created an attitude which is seen as cynical and disengaged.10 This attitude has led to a decreased motivation for leadership involvement in areas where there is the perspective they are not needed and cannot make a difference in the organization. Millennials promote the idea of being transparent and are not motivated to be involved in organizations where vision, innovation, and transparency are not the focus.11
To truly understand the motivation of the Millennial generation, the characteristics which relate to leadership and followship styles must be understood. The link between the response to leadership and the motivation to engage in leadership roles are closely associated. In obtaining an understanding of the response to leadership styles and the generational characteristics, educators will be more effective in promoting and developing Millennial leaders for the profession.


Participants will have a greater understanding of the characteristics of the Millennial generation which are associated with leadership styles and motivation for involvement. Participants will learn strategies to promote leadership development for Millennial students in the classroom and the clinical environment. Discussion of practical application to utilize these skills will be addressed in the session.
In addition to a review of current literature concerning the leadership styles and motivation of Millennial generation, the author will share the results of a current qualitative study focused on the motivation for leadership in a group of physical therapy students. The data collection will be completed by August 2017 and the results will be shared in the education session.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Through the Looking Glass: Transforming Physical Therapy Education

This educational session relates to the conference thematic area Walking the Talk: Leadership and Advocacy. At the conclusion of this session, the participants will be educated on strategies to take an active approach to promoting leadership and advocacy for Millennials. Strategies for implementation will focus on characteristics of Millennials and the ability to make connections to what is meaningful to this generation. The ultimate goal is to improve the effectiveness of leadership development within the educational and clinical settings to enhance and motivate the Millennial student to advocate and step up to leadership within our profession.


Winston BE, Patterson K. An integrative definition of leadership. International journal of leadership studies. 2006;1(2): 6-66.
Walker JT, Martin T, White J, et al. Generational (Age) Differences in Nursing Students’ Preferences for Teaching Methods. Journal of Nursing Education. 2006;45(9): 371-374.
Chou SY. Millennials in the workplace: a conceptual analysis of millennials’ leadershiop and followership styles. International Journal of Human Resource Studies. 2012;2(2): 71-83
Myers KK, Sadaghiani K. Millennials in the workplace: a communication perspective on millennials’ organizational relationships and performance. Journal of Business Psychology. 2010;25: 225-238.
Eckleberry-Hunt J, Tucciarone J. The challenges and opportunities of teaching “Generation Y”. Journal of Graduate Medical Education. 2011;3(4): 458-461.
Murray A. Mind the gap: technology, millennial leadership and the cross-generational workforce. Australian Library Journal. 2011;60(1): 54-65.
Heifetz R, Grashow A, Linsky M. Chapter 2: The theory behind the practice. In: The Practice of Adaptive Leadership. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press; 2009:13-40.
McClelland’s Theory of Needs. NetMBA Business Knowledge Center website Accessed April 8, 2017.
Borges NJ, Manuel RS, Elam CL et al. Differences in motives between Millennial and Generation X medical students. Medical Education. 2010;44: 570-576.
Twenge JM. Generation me: why today's young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled--and more miserable than ever before. New York: Atria Paperback; 2014.
Sladek S. Knowing Y: Engage the Next Generation Now. Washington, DC. 2014.

Course Objectives

At the conclusion of the educational session, the following objectives will be met:
The participant will identify and assess characteristics of Millennial students which lead to response to specific leadership styles.
The participant will design and modify learning experiences to promote leadership development specific for the physical therapy student from the Millennial generation.
The participant will identify motivational strategies for Millennial students to effectively promote involvement in advocacy for the profession.

Instructional Methods

The design of this educational session is a hybrid model of interactive lecture and active learning strategies. The instructor for this course will provide the perspective of both an academic faculty member working with Millennial students and also the perspective of a clinic manager working with new graduates of the Millennial generation. Leadership development strategies for both academic and clinical education will be highlighted. A pre-test of the material to be covered will be utilized through an audience participation activity. Active learning strategies to be utilized for this session include: use of videos and pictures of suggested learning activities for professional development, guided imaginary, word association activity, and the use of technology/instructional resources.

Tentative Outline/Schedule

10 minutes: Introduction & background of research interest into topic
10 minutes: Session pre-test utilizing active learning strategy
10 minutes: Background of the characteristics of Millennials will be reviewed
10 minutes: Information on leadership styles and the response to each by Millennials
20 minutes: Characteristics of Millennials and strategies for motivation will be shared through interactive lecture; Practical and real-life examples will be shared through guided imagery, audience discussion, and videos
15 minutes: Results of qualitative research study with focus on motivation for leadership of physical therapy students will be shared with implications for the future
5 minutes: Conclusion of session and take-home points for implementation of the material
10 minutes: Open for questions, ideas, discussion of topic

BACK to Abstract Results

  • Control #: 2750778
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2017
  • Authors: Dr. Angel Holland
  • Keywords:

BACK to Abstract Results