Millennial Myopia: The Unspoken Truth About Global Leadership

There I was getting ready to dive in. Suddenly it hit me.

I was standing on stage alone.

Usually that’s a great thing, to have a platform, message and the undivided attention of the community that you serve.

But this time around it was different - we were all in the same room but having different conversations.

How could I ask my peers to become global leaders if they didn’t believe it was something they could be? (At least not until they were 50 with a few years of political experience).

I took a few step back.

Standing at the perimeter, I saw what was really at the intersection of global leadership and millennial talent.

The roadblock was evident.

The truth is a lot of millennials don’t see global leadership as something they can achieve until they have a law degree and 2 decades of political experience under their belt. Many millennials have not taken steps to step into this role, because they don’t know that they can fulfill it...yet.

They don’t believe they can be global leaders now. However, there’s currently a lack of leadership globally because we’ve compartmentalized it as this political thing, something for older people, or someone that works in the UN.

What can we do to expand our views around what global leadership and begin to act as global leaders right now?

There’s no simple solution - the journey will not be easy. However, everything great had its beginning. Here’s how I propose we begin:

  1. Identify our limiting views of global leadership.

In order to shift our understanding we must first understand our current mindset around the topic.

My mentee, a 20 yr old NYC college student recently said to me: “As long as your message is political enough you’re a global leader”.

My friend/mastermind colleague, a 24 yr old recent college grad stated, “Global leadership makes me think of the united nations, and of people like Obama, the Dalai Lama, the Pope.”

These are just a few examples, once we gather more insight we can dig deeper to pinpoint where these limiting views come from.

2) Consider the source

From my observations our limiting views of global leadership come from three sources:

  • Social studies class

Whether we learned from textbooks, scholastic news articles, or encyclopedias, global leadership was always shown to as us as presidents of nations. Nothing more.

  • Media narratives

The media has also played a huge role in millennial myopia. How many stories, articles, and videos do you see these days that tag millennials as the entitled generation? Every generation seems to get branded in a way that harms more than helps. This is by no means a debate about whether or not millennials are entitled. This is however the opportunity to focus on the bold nature, resourceful, innovative thinking, desire for connection/experiences and tech savviness of millennials.

Millennials are so bold - we can pack up and travel the world as digital nomads, start our career from scratch, we are perfectly positioned to become global leaders. Our global curiosity is exactly what is called for to cultivate millennial global leaders.

  • Where the Call to Action comes from

Unfortunately, Millennial myopia is learned behavior. It comes from decades of a one sided narrative we see in the media coupled with requests from that same side for us to take on leadership roles.

During a 2017 youth conference in Bogota Kofi Annan stated:

“And let me repeat: You are never too young to lead and never too old to learn. So I call on the young generation to put its remarkable energy, insight and passion in the service of reconciliation and peace. The path is yours to construct and pursue.”

If a 79 yr old nobel peace prize winner/ former Secretary-General of the United Nations is asking the youth to step into global leadership roles it’s sends a subconscious message to us that we need to wait until we get to his level to become global leaders.

I wholeheartedly agree with Kofi that “You are never too young too lead.” But, calling on young people to lead isn’t enough. If Millennials continue to see this call from people they can’t relate to they will continue to view global leadership strictly as political positions that take decades in office or in the UN to get to.

We need more global leaders high lighting young global leaders in every sector, not just politics and nobel peace prize winners - no better place to start than with millennials making their mark now.


This step is vital.

What you do after you unlearn holds no weight if you don’t know what questions you ask yourself.

What questions do we need to ask in order to figure out how to shift and expand what we perceive global leadership to be?

To answer that, allow me to introduce my (mental) mentor, Theodore Levitt. Ted Levitt was a Harvard Professor who penned the classic theory, Marketing Myopia in the Harvard Business Review. In essence this theory suggests that every major industry was once a growth industry, the main reason growth declines or stops is not because the market is saturated. It is because there has been a failure of management.

Levitt lays out a great example using the railroad industry:

“The railroads serve as an example of an industry whose failure to grow is due to a limited market view. Those behind the railroads are in trouble not because the need for passenger transportation has declined or even because that need has been filled by cars, airplanes, and other modes of transport. Rather, the industry is failing because those behind it assumed they were in the railroad business rather than the transportation business. They were railroad oriented instead of transportation oriented, product oriented instead of customer oriented.”

Let’s put this in perspective: Levitt wrote this in 1960 about 45 years after the world’s first commercial airline launched (1914). Imagine if Amtrak looked outside of their current product offering of trains they might have captured the ENTIRE transportation market.

I don’t know about you but I’d love to be able to ask my friends:

Are you flying Amtrak to Dubai

OR Emirates?

You’re probably wondering what do railroads and marketing myopia have to do with global leadership?

Well, while Levitt asked, “what business are we really in?” I started to ask myself about this myopic lens millennials tend to view global leadership through.

Levitt suggests the best way for business owners to answer that question is by asking themselves another:

What are we really doing for the customer? Successful companies focus on customer needs, not their own products and services, which can—and will—be replaced by competitive alternatives, either ones they make themselves or those produced by existing or potential competitors.

If those business owners had seen themselves as helping customers get from one place to another, they might’ve expanded the business into other forms of transportation like cars, trucks, or airplanes. Unfortunately, they let other companies seize those opportunities and steal away their passengers instead.

Let’s take that same question and apply it to global leadership:

  • What business are global leaders really in?
  • Who does a global leader serve, who is their “customer”?
  • What problem does a global leader solve?

A global leader serves a specific community or fights for a specific cause that plagues the world. They can solve a myriad of problems, after all is said and done their solutions push humanity forward!

Global Citizen has done a great job of grouping the different challenges that fall under global leadership:

  • Girls & Women
  • Finance & Innovation
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Food & Hunger
  • Citzenship
  • Education
  • Water & Sanitation

These categories are very similar to the UN’s Millennium development goals. However, the Global Citizen brand speaks to millennials in a more authentic way. We need more initiatives that create inspirational movements that speaks the language of millennials - by doing things like partnering with sneaker brands to produce a series of 10 limited-edition sneakers dedicated to bringing awareness to the fight to end extreme poverty around the world. Or hosting annual music festivals worldwide w/performances by people like Pharrell Williams and Big Sean all in the name of global citizenship.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that the stage you stand on when you share your message matters. If you have to befriend a millennial influencer/global leadership brand like Global then build that relationship before reaching out to millennials. When fortune 500 companies like Johnson and Johnson announced their newest large scale efforts to testing HIV vaccines at Global Citizen Festival that is the stage where Millennials ears are more opened, they knew they had created a greater opportunity to build more trust and connection.

Not everyone will be able to build a global type of company. But everyone can build their own version of it. For me I’ve committed to creating a global community to help millennials navigate their way to living and working internationally. This means that as many millennials travel around the world, jet set, post their pictures on IG - I lead them to something deeper. Travel is a stepping stone, I help them build a sustainable global career. Once they create a global career it becomes that much easier to connect across cultures, increase cross cultural awareness, and then bridge the gap from global career to global leader. This initiative to live/work internationally is without a doubt a key element that will help my generation (millennials) see themselves on a path to global leadership as early as now.

A community of Global citizens is where we will find the next global leaders.

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