An important 2018 study asked almost 500 young adults what they observed in the most effective leaders. The three most popular answers were integrity, humility and passion. For many, these may seem surprising. Other attributes such as strategic, visionary and even intelligence were much further down the list. These findings mean we need to consider the style of leadership that this generation will follow and the posture that is needed to be effective in an ever-changing landscape.

This conversation is about leadership and it takes place in the study, the most grown-up room in the house. The amount that could be said in general on leadership is illustrated by the multitude of books that are written and conferences run on the topic every year. But a specific conversation is needed about how we lead young adults in particular, and we may find that the postures we adopt here help us lead all generations. As we address the findings cited above and explore how we lead 20s and 30s, here are four themes to bear in mind and explore in this conversation:

  1. Example. For younger generations, institutions are not viewed in the same way that they once were. There has been an erosion of trust in authority and an abundance of knowledge is now available; with Google at everyone’s thumb tips, we can all feel like experts. This means, more than ever, that a leader is not guaranteed authority and influence due to their position of leadership. Leaders who are respected and trusted by this generation set an example and earn their position.
  2. Accessibility. The high value that young adults place on integrity and authenticity means they want to, even need to, see that their leaders are walking the walk’. This means that they will at times want to draw close in relationship to their leaders to get to know them and see if this is the case. Leaders gain trust in this area by being as transparent as possible and creating space and opportunity for young adults to see their lives up close.
  3. Collaboration. For this generation, leadership is a team game, not an individual pursuit. Young adults are often part of networks and place high value on working collaboratively.[1] Church leadership teams that are thriving in this area listen well to young adults and make decisions with them, not for them.
  4. Purposeful. Young adults crave purpose and look for meaning in life, work and community.[2] Leaders of churches that connect with this age group will cast a vision of the church and its impact on individuals and communities, and critically, how they can play a part.

Most change is uncomfortable and probably none more so than in this area. Most of us have developed a way of leading over time and adjusting it to the needs of younger generations will require humility and agility. But asking these questions and reflecting on how we lead and who leads with us will be important as we develop ministry in this area.

[1] See Barna’s Gen Z Research, which described the place high value younger generations place on seeing themselves as special and the importance of succeeding as a team.

[2] See Forge Leadership’s 2018 study, which found having a sense of purpose was more important than excellent relationships, work life balance, stability and financial reward for millennials at work.