“We expect to lead and be led. In the absence of orders I will take charge, lead my teammates, and accomplish the mission. I lead by example in all situations.” -- Navy SEAL Creed
My first combat mission with my Navy SEAL platoon was to secure a hydroelectric power plant in Northern Iraq. My role on this mission was to guide the helicopter pilots over the landing zone and manage the fast rope insertion for our assault team. At the time, I thought this was a lot of responsibility for a new guy. What I figured out after we nailed our landing, and after many other successful missions, is that age has very little to do with leadership ability.
The SEAL Teams are a relatively flat organization. Everyone goes through the same grueling training, and everyone is trained to lead regardless of age or rank. In the business world, emergent leadership is about team members taking the initiative to accept more responsibility and perform work outside of their general roles. If we, as leaders, encourage and promote this type of drive, our young team members will be ready to rise within the organization, and our companies will be better off for it.
Here are four ways we can prepare our young people for leadership:
Showcase their talent. Don’t hide your young leaders. Show them to the world. Let them be the face of your company. Encourage them to contribute to the company blog or industry publications, take training courses, speak at conferences and trade shows, and collaborate on ways to improve company systems and offerings.
Manage them, not their work. If you have the right people in the right jobs, don’t micromanage their efforts. Set boundaries and then back off. Allow them to be innovative and develop systems, processes, and methodologies that will get the job done. Doing this will not only result in a more confident team and better retention, but will give your team members a sense of ownership that they wouldn’t get by simply following orders.
Let them fail. While providing guidance and leadership, we must also allow for failure. Encourage your young leaders to take calculated risks when appropriate. When things don’t go as planned, use that as a coaching opportunity to help them understand how to succeed in the future. Any successful entrepreneur knows that they have gained the most wisdom through their mistakes.
Link their effort to tangible results. Real leaders want to know exactly how their role affects the growth of the company. As you develop leaders, give them goals and milestones to hit so they understand the roadmap for success. Ensure that they know exactly how their efforts and results drive the company forward. As they develop in leadership roles, they will know how they got there and where they need to go next.
Let’s encourage our young team members and provide them the resources for success. If we can build our emerging leadership teams from loyal employees who started at the bottom, then our companies will be stronger and have a more loyal foundation for growth.