How millennials defeated the “bad boss” and are changing our perception of work for the better

Ever since our early childhood, we millennials have been taught leadership. We have been taught leadership both officially, in school, as it has been a natural part of our school plan, and unofficially, by peers in our surroundings. As a result, we are very aware of leadership, more so than previous generations. Being a millennial myself, I thought I could provide an illustrative example of this from my own experience. It was in first grade and I was sitting at my first “utvecklingssamtal”, or development talk, with my teacher and my mother. Our talk went something like this:
“What do you want to be when you grow up, Anna?”, asked my teacher my six year old self. My answer was:
“I want to be like you.” My teacher blushed and quite happily said:
“Oh, so you want to become a teacher?” and I said:
“No. I want to lead.”

Close up photo Anna Leijon arms crossed

Basically, we millennials have been drilled from the start to become managers, perhaps by our Generation X and Baby boomer parents. By these previous generations, managers have received and taken enormous credit. This could be a result of the fact that, in general, these generations glorify managers. For example, in my role as the project manager, I have been told by a baby boomer project member that “you are the star of the project”. That statement literally made me cringe, but more on that later. Nevertheless, the management role is about to change. The millennial generation is knocking on the doors of their bosses’ offices, disrupting the previous hierarchy and changing the management role for the better. Let us now take a closer look at the leadership style of the generation who were born between 1980 and 2000.

The stereotype of the “bad boss”

Before diving into these subjects, let us start with defining the “bad boss”. From the building of the pyramids, to the organization of the military in the 1700s, to the mass-producing factories during the industrial revolution, all of these have required some form of managers. These managers, as we picture them today, have helped form the stereotype of the “bad boss”. The “bad boss”, as managers are sometimes depicted as in the movies, is someone that millennials have grown up with and gotten to know quite well over the years. It is someone that tells other people what to do and takes credit for other people’s work. It is a boss who holds the role of a dictator, sitting somewhere in a corner office disconnected from the employees. When digging further into the subjects of millennials and their leadership style, keep the stereotype of the bad boss in mind.

meme bad boss

The 3 characteristics of the “bad boss”:

  • Tells other people what to do
  • Takes credit for other people’s work
  • Is distanced and disconnected from the employees

Honest work meme - kevin spacey in horrible bosses - lamborghini

The new needs of millennial coworkers

Moving on from the “bad boss”, these are all new or enhanced dimensions of the needs of coworkers, which are mainly driven by millennials in the workplace:


  • There was a time when people got a job after school and stayed there until retirement. Not millennials. They refuse to be a worker who comes in, does their job and leaves, and they’re taking this philosophy with them as they become leaders themselves. Millennials need and want to be engaged. The second they do not feel engaged at the workplace, they will start looking for something else. As such, in a recent study, they found that millennials do not expect to stay more than three years at any given job.
A greater good

  • Millennials have a high moral and are not primarily motivated by money. As they are passionate, they want to be able to contribute directly to the organization's mission and to contribute to something as they regard as a ‘greater good’. In order to do so, millennials must understand the vision of the company. As such, the company does best in formulating a vision which is linked to sustainability, long-term change and a ‘holy’ purpose. In all, everything millennials want to do is to make a difference. As a side note, we have seen indications that centennials, the generation following millennials, are even more motivated by this.

  • Diversity is important for companies to work with in order to attract, retain and keep millennial coworkers engaged within the company. As previously stated, millennials have a high moral and are keen to engage in initiatives that they feel create a long-term change for the better. As such, they are passionate advocates for diversity.

stock photo pride young people sitting on fence


  • Millennials want ‘work life balance’ and are not keen on the traditional 9-5 work. They prefer to work when they have time and where they are able to, such as at the coffee shop or from home, whereas the previous generations are more committed to ‘facetime’ and showing up at the office the same time everyday. For millennials, it is less about the hours you put in and the location you are at and more about the actual quality of the work. Millennials are also particularly interested in working and traveling abroad. Subsequently, millennials are welcoming to change and are used to and prefer a rapidly changing environment. A clear example of this increased flexibility in the workplace, which is boosted by millennials, is that the contract form is shifting towards freelance and project work rather than line work.

  • Millennials crave inclusiveness and it is also important for millennials to be able to express their opinion and their creativity. They prefer to do this in a collaborative and innovative setting.

What managers can do to meet the expectations of millennials

Clearly, millennials have complex needs, but they are also engaged and focused on creating actual value for the organisation if those needs are met. Therefore, in the next section I will go through what a manager needs to do to live up to the expectations of millennials. In quite stark contrast to the “bad boss”, the following characteristics of managers are preferred by millennials. These expectations on managers have taken shape mainly as a result of millennials joining the workforce:

Workplace democracy

  • From the perspective of millennials, management should be spread over several people rather than held by one key player. If it is held by one player, the leadership style should be inclusive rather than authoritarian. Specifically, managers should give millennials responsibility, lead by example and refrain from micromanaging their coworkers. In addition to this, and as I stated in the beginning, millennials are quite well-read on leadership theory and even prefer the term ‘leader’ rather than ‘manager’.
Source of inspiration

  • As millennials value what are considered ‘soft’ aspects of leadership, these are what managers should focus on. In particular, managers should have the ability to inspire, to hold and communicate a vision, to be passionate och to take initiatives when others do not dare or want to.
Collaborative and relationship-driven

  • With more than half of millennials seeing communication and relationship skills as absolutely necessary for a manager in a recent study, these are often regarded as the most important skills. In addition to this, industry knowledge was seen as less important in the same study. Thus, managers should have a wide network of contacts, actively work to connect people and act as spiders in the web.

stock photo high five office


  • As millennials are value-driven, companies and managers are expected to be value-driven as well. On way companies are trying to communicate this is by formulating key values, which are supposed to be ‘words to live by’ in the company culture. A perfect example of such words are “transparent and prestigeless”, which are common to use in order to attract new, young potential hires, such as millennials.
Feedback culture

  • Millennials prefer when managers have a continued and open dialogue with their coworkers, especially concerning their wellbeing as well as their personal and professional development. In particular, they should be interested in the coworkers’ career growth. With that said, the relationship and feedback between the manager and the coworker should be interactive, rather than one-way.
Higher technological threshold

  • Since their childhood was marked with it, millennials are accustomed to the use of technology, much more so than the Generation X and Baby boomers. This higher technological threshold transcends to managers as well as they are expected to keep up, explore and adopt new possibilities that arise at an accelerating pace due to technological advancement.

Millennials are leading the way towards a better workplace

Ever since millennials started to join the workforce and to become managers themselves, they have sparked the new trends in the needs of coworkers and the expectations on management. The previous needs and expectations are either replaced or changed, and managers are replaced or changed with them. One reason they are changed is that companies aspire to attract and keep millennials. As a result, they are responsive to the new trends and act accordingly. Alas, millennials will gradually eliminate the “bad boss” once and for all.

Therefore, this may be the end of the employee and the manager as we know it. When it comes to the former, the definition of work itself is changing as it is tipped in favor of coworkers, giving them more freedom and more power. The workplace is seen as a hub of innovation and change as well as a place to make friends and grow your network. In addition to this, work is a bigger part of people’s identity than before, coworkers are armed with bigger confidence and crave development opportunities.

As such, and in contrast to a generation ago, it is the coworker who demands and the manager who complies. Nowadays, work is created for the worker and not the other way around. In conclusion, the company works as the second family and is providing coworkers with their identity, friends and stability. As such, work is increasingly humane and answers to even the highest needs in Maslov’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslov's hierachy pyramid

When it comes to the latter, even the names differ as millennials prefer “leader” rather than “manager”. Hence, as a manager in the future, good luck telling a coworker what to do and how to do it. It just will not work that way. Arguably, it is changing work and management for the better. However, there are of course negative aspects of the organizational changes that millennials have sparked and which I have discussed throughout this article. For example, ‘workplace democracy’ may lead to delayed decisions, more diplomacy, hidden structures and a dependency on social interactions - which may make the future’s “bad boss” the company’s ‘social genius’. The power will lie in social interactions and informal decision processes, which the extrovert, talkative people are able to take advantage of.

With this said, I would argue that millennials’ leadership style is a counter-reaction to the bad boss that has been engraved in our millennial heads since our young years. Going back to my example in the beginning, in which an older project member told me that “you are the star of the project” in my role as the project manager. In my view, we were all stars in the project and I felt extremely uncomfortable taking credit for anybody else. I believe that this transcends to millennials in general, based on the research that I have read. Because of the new dynamics between coworkers and managers our perception of work is changing for the better. Hence, my favorite metaphor for the new perception of work is a game of curling. The coworkers are the ones throwing the stones while the manager is the one sweeping the ice so everything runs smoothly. In well-functioning workplaces, we are neither leaders nor followers, we are in it together - as a team, equally invested in the company’s success, whether you are the manager or any other coworker.

If you liked this article, please check out some of my other articles on my website as well. Here are a few: How did I end up with my own tea brand, Téamo?, OK, I've got an engineering degree. Now what? and Are you our new receptionist?. Finally, I want to wish everyone best of luck leading and being led throughout your careers! :)


anna leijon's lion logo


By subscribing, you will get notified when my next content is published before everyone else.