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What (if anything) do we know about millennial educational leaders?

Laura Guihen, Lecturer in Education at University of Leicester Sergio Galdames, PostDoc at Universidad de Chile

This blog post explores the concept of the ‘millennial school leader’, ahead of the presentation of our paper at the BERA Conference 2019. Our session will explore the findings of a systematic review concerned with how leaders belonging to the ‘millennial’ generation are defined and understood within the leadership literature.

Presentation details

Paper: ‘The Rise of the Millennial Leader: Implications for the Theory and Practice of Educational Leadership’
Presenters: Sergio Galdames, Laura Guihen

Part of the session, ‘Educational Leadership: Age, Career and Learning’

BERA Conference, 2019
12:10–13:10, Thursday 12 September 2019
Room 4.204, University Place
University of Manchester

Click here to view the full Conference programme

There is a growing interest in understanding generational differences in the workplace (Lyons, Schweitzer, Ng, & Kuron, 2012; Smola & Sutton, 2002). Schools are sites of generational intersection, in which baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1965), Generation X (Gen Xers; those born between 1966 and 1978) and millennials (those born between 1979 and 1999) work alongside each other.

School workforce data shows that the population of teachers with leadership responsibility in England grew younger on average between 2010 and 2016 (DfE, 2018). This mirrors international evidence that acknowledges the existence of younger school leaders (Edge, 2015; Ahumada-Figueroa, Montecinos, Edge, & Galdames, 2016). As baby-boomer leaders are retiring, genXers and millennials are filling vacant school leadership posts. There is evidence in the existing literature of scholarly interest in Generation X leaders (see for example Edge, Descours & Oxley, 2017). However, there is relatively little research focussed on millennials in educational leadership.

Notably, much of what is known about millennials in the workplace has been driven by popular media and informal observations (Deal, Altman, & Rogelberg, 2010). The empirical evidence that does exist suggests that millennials are more digitally literate, purpose-driven and collaboration-oriented than their predecessors (Van den Bergh & de Wulf, 2017). Yet, as Stewart and colleagues (2017) note, a number of negative characteristics have also been attributed to millennials in the workplace, including neediness, self-absorption and a lack of organisational loyalty. Indeed, millennials have been characterised in the scholarly literature as ‘generation me’ (Twenge, 2013).

By conducting a systematic review, we aimed to examine the existing empirical evidence focused on millennials and leadership. As we will explore in our presentation, we were confronted with a predominantly quantitative body of research originating mainly from the United States. We found that the majority of what has been written about millennial leaders is located in the fields of business and healthcare; there is a distinct lack of research focussed on millennial leaders in education. We have, therefore, been left with a series of questions.

  • How do millennials perceive educational leadership and their role as school leaders?
  • What are millennial school leaders’ priorities when it comes to their work?
  • How do millennial school leaders experience the challenges and opportunities of leading a school?
  • How do millennial school leaders perceive the concepts of career, work–life balance and career progression?
  • How do millennial school leaders compare to school leaders in other generational cohorts?

We are keen to hear what you think, and what future research concerned with millennials in educational leadership might look like.


Ahumada-Figueroa, L., Montecinos, C., Edge, K., & Galdames, S. (2016). Directores de la generación ‘milenio’. Valparaiso, Chile: Lideres Educativos. Retrieved from:

Deal, J., Altman, D., & Rogelberg, S. (2010). Millennials at Work: What We Know and What We Need to Do (If Anything). Journal of Business and Psychology, 25(2), 191–199. retrieved from

Department for Education [DfE] (2018). School Leadership in England 2010 – 2016: Characteristics and Trends. Retrieved from

Edge, K. (2015). Generation X Leaders in Global Cities: Emerging Perspectives on Recruitment, Retention and Succession Planning. In A. Harris & M. Jones (Eds.), Leading Futures: Global Perspectives on Educational Leadership (187–199). New Delhi: SAGE Publications India.

Edge, K., Descours, K. & Oxley, L. (2017). Generation X Leaders from London, New York and Toronto: Conceptions of social identity and the influence of city-based context. Educational Management, Administration and Leadership, 45(5), 863–883.

Lyons, S., Schweitzer, L., Ng, E., & Kuron, L. (2012). Comparing apples to apples. Career Development International, 17(4), 333–357.

Smola, K., & Sutton, C. D. (2002). Generational differences: revisiting generational work values for the new millennium. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23(4), 363–382.

Stewart, J. S., Oliver, E. G., Cravens, K. S., & Oishi, S. (2017). Managing millennials: Embracing generational differences. Business Horizons, 60(1), 45–54.

Twenge, J. (2013). The Evidence for Generation Me and Against Generation We. Emerging Adulthood, 1(1), 11–16.

Van Den Bergh, J. and De Wulf, K. (2017). Millennials at Work. Research World, 63, 19–21.