The Path to Success for Millennial and Gen Z Leaders Starts with Their Meaning

Integrating Millennial and Gen Z perspectives at work is more than a demographic shift; it is a call to action for a more profound engagement with meaning at work.

The workplace is undergoing an unprecedented transformation, transcending mere technological advancements. At its core, this change is about a radical redefinition of the very concept of work. Driven by the influence of Millennials and Generation Zero, the long-developing trend of meaning at work is now an essential, inescapable element of the modern professional landscape. Let’s look at why.

Millennials in Leadership

Millennials stepping into leadership roles bring a unique blend of digital adaptability and a quest for work-life balance. Having navigated the transition from an analog to a digital world during their formative years, they are tech-savvy, but for them, more than money and titles, meaning is essential. Known for reaching traditional life milestones such as marriage and homeownership later than previous generations, they will delay certain gratifications to express individuality.

Gen Z is the first generation to grow up entirely in the digital age. This constant connectivity has shaped their cognitive processes, attention spans, and social interactions. This generation places a high value on individual identity and self-expression, often facilitated by digital platforms. While this fosters a sense of freedom and self-discovery, it also can lead to challenges in forming a stable sense of self, with constant comparison to others and the pursuit of individualism sometimes leading to feelings of isolation.

Gen Z tends to have a different relationship with authority at work than previous generations. They are more likely to question traditional structures and authority figures, seeking authenticity and transparency in leadership.

The mix of these two generations taking hold in the workplace fundamentally alters the concept of work and what it means to us all. Their emphasis on individuality, meaning, and autonomy is a seismic shift in workplace ethos. This shift is beginning to prompt older generations to reevaluate what they seek in their careers, further exposing the importance of meaning at work.

And it makes sense. A striking 57 percent of our adult lives exist in work environments. The roles we assume, the connections we establish, and the choices we navigate reflect and shape who we are. These intricate aspects of daily work are integral to our identity and existence. This profound connection is why the concept of meaning at work resonates so deeply with many of us.


Meaning is undoubtedly a positive development, but it comes with distress. Like eight blind people describing an elephant, we are just beginning to experiment with new career development and leadership models that accommodate what we can sense about meaning.

Developing new models can be challenging. With more than 30 years of research, experimentation, and development of practical, straightforward programs, I can tell you unequivocally that experiencing how meaning works “within you” is the only (and best) way to learn how to wield it and its tools. The good news is that because we know there is a process and some tools exist, learning the basics and getting immense rewards won’t take decades, and what’s great is that the benefits and insights will last more than decades.

Significant challenges offer incredible opportunities. I have seen career trajectories change in less than a year. We’ve also seen a cascade of positive outcomes for people in organizations. Skills such as emotional intelligence (EQ), empathy, resilience, and the ability to conduct enriching conversations are not just standalone qualities, they are direct manifestations or results of a deep engagement with meaning. Just as a strong culture reflects the underlying meaning of structures and systems within an organization, these skills are the tangible outcomes of a meaningful work environment.

Integrating Different Perspectives

Integrating Millennial and Gen Z perspectives into the workforce is more than a demographic shift; it is a call to action for a more profound engagement with meaning at work. The rewards extend far beyond conventional success metrics for organizations and professionals willing to explore and embrace this domain. Pursuing meaning becomes a transformative tool, enhancing interest in the working experience and further fortifying the organization’s overall effectiveness.

Danny Gutknecht
Danny Gutknecht is the CEO of Pathways and the author of “Meaning at Work—And Its Hidden Language."