Leadership & Mentorship in the Lives of Accomplished Millennials: Implications for Practice

Drs. Elina Erzikova and Diana Martinelli examined if and how mentorship, leadership development, and organizational culture helped award-winning millennial PR professionals succeed.

Executive Summary

Twenty-five award-winning millennial PR practitioners were interviewed via phone between August 2017 and April 2018 to help extend prior Plank Center-sponsored research on mentoring, leadership development, and millennial communications professionals in the workplace. Specifically, the study’s purpose was to explore if, to what extent, and how mentorship, leadership development, and organizational culture helped these young public relations practitioners become recognized as successful young professionals.

Despite the importance of leadership development (Martinelli & Erzikova, 2017), the area remains under-researched in the field of public relations. This study adds to a nascent literature by investigating the ways leadership development and mentorship enhance competency categories for PR leaders outlined in the integrated model of leadership in public relations (Meng, Berger, Gower, & Heyman, 2012). This model, which was tested and validated in a global project (Berger & Meng, 2014), includes the following dimensions: self-dynamics, team collaboration, ethical orientation, relationship building, strategic decision making, and communication knowledge management. The integrated model serves as a theoretical framework for the current examination that aims to analyze millennials’ successes and offers suggestions for improving the preparation of leaders. Overall, this study advocates for a holistic approach to leadership development that includes launching/reevaluating mentoring programs, developing/enhancing an open organizational culture, providing millennial employees with leadership opportunities and supporting their desire to become mentors.

Key Findings and Implications

  • Mastery of PR leadership dimensions – While half of the participants felt particularly competent in their relationship-building skills, only one reported feeling that way about ethical decision making. In addition, participants noted the challenge of communications knowledge and competency in an ever-evolving technological age. Young PR professionals should be given ongoing development opportunities to help them be more competent and feel more confident in ethical and digital/analytics communications practice.
  • Leadership development and practice – Organizational leaders who have been successful in hiring and retaining top millennial talent are seen as open and approachable, and effective leadership and mentorship practices are viewed as intertwined. Organizational/PR leaders might also consider offering open door office hours or regularly scheduled open “brown bag” lunch sessions, where senior leaders can interact more personally with junior-level employees in an informal, authentic way to answer questions about the organization, management decisions, business climate, vision, etc., and obtain young employees’ feedback and perspectives.
  • Mentorship – The majority of participants said they currently have formal and/or informal mentors, with most having multiple professional mentors, either within or external to their current organizations (or both), and they consider themselves to be mentors as well. Their most commonly named influential mentors, professionally speaking, are current or former organizational leaders and/or senior colleagues. Intentionally pairing more senior-level employees with younger ones on projects, where the two regularly meet to discuss progress, challenges and decisions and where the younger employee is given leadership responsibilities, could help foster a greater sense of team collaboration, help hone strategic decision-making skills, and help reinforce the foundation of ethical decision making as well.

Download the full Leadership & Mentorship in the Lives of Accomplished Millennials report (PDF)