At a recent speaking engagement, a member of the audience asked me what leadership advice I would give myself when I first began my career. While I enjoyed the thought of talking to a younger version of myself, I would much rather offer guidance to today's young leaders, who work in a drastically different workforce and face unique challenges.
When I started my career in business over thirty-five years ago, I was grateful for suggestions, advice, and tips I received from my seniors. Yet through my experiences as a CEO and corporate advisor, I have seen that today's young professionals need to approach leadership quite a bit differently.
Here are six recommendations for young leaders trying to achieve a new level of success:
1. It's your responsibility to make an impact
Let's face it--no one else has it in their job description to help you make it to the top. It's up to you to be the best leader for your team and company as a whole. It's like the slogan we have in New York City--"if you see something, say something."
Identify issues, problems, and opportunities and work with your team to develop and implement solutions. Don't either ignore or complain--that is how you make an impact.
2. Don't focus on yourself
Your personal career growth is important, but as a leader, it's not about just you anymore. When you're in charge of a team of employees, you need to make sure their needs are met and that they have opportunities for growth and success. Evaluate each employee's strengths and weaknesses, and coach them to improve so that they, and the whole company wins.
3. Look at both the big and little picture
Too often I see very contradictory and in some cases mutually exclusive approaches--neither of which works. Some young leaders become so enthralled with the assumed success of their big idea, they neglect the critical details and often find themselves owning a flawed execution that produces poor results.
The flip side of the coin is leaders who love minutiae and spend most of their day toiling in the weeds. While everything is accurate and on schedule, their wins are quite small because they never exhibited the vision to think big.
Great leaders do both, and if you learn these skills now, your path to success is more certain.
4. Your authority needs to count even if your employees are older
I was fortunate early in my career to move up quickly and as a result, almost everyone on my teams were older, and in some cases substantially older than me. While this at the time did not seem strange to me, I know that many of them were not thrilled that I was their boss.
Very quickly, I realized that I needed to get to know them as individuals, understand what concerns they might have had, and help them work through their issues. It was less about delegation and more about coaching--almost becoming a player-coach.
Just because you have the title does not mean you are in charge. Take the time and care with work with your team and earn their respect. When you do that, it does not matter what your age is.
5. Sometimes the old-school approach isn't completely wrong
It is easy to be dismissive that the old way of doing things must be antiquated and replaced. Technology and innovation are changing the way we do business and certainly speeding up cycle times.
Leaders need to respect and appreciate that folks who are older and been with the company for 20 years have enormous institutional knowledge, and they would love to contribute their new into new approaches. Get to know these folks. Learn what they know and engage them in your process.
It's a win-win for everyone.
6. You still need to listen and learn
Here's the hardest truth of all. Just because you are the leader, you do not have all the answers--and you may not have all of the questions either.
Keep in contact with those who guided you constantly use fresh eyes to observe what is working and not working in your group. Get everyone on your team involved and don't be afraid to admit your way isn't working.
Today's young leaders probably have it harder than I did starting out, but also have greater opportunities. Follow these six recommendations, and you will be well on your way to success.